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Leona Samson, Ph.D.

Department of Biological Engineering Division
Ellison American Cancer Society Research Professor
Professor of Biological Engineering and Toxicology

Room 56-235
617-258-7813 (phone)


B.Sc. Biochemistry, Aberdeen University, Scotland 1974 Ph.D. Molecular Biology, Imperial Cancer Research Fund and University College, London University, England 1978 Director, MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences, MIT, 2001 Affiliate, MIT Center for Cancer Research, 2001 Adjunct Professor of Toxicology, Harvard School of Public Health, 2001 Executive Committee, MIT Computational and Systems Biology Initiative (CSBi)

Research Summary

Research in the Samson lab is aimed at understanding how cell, tissues, animals and ultimately people respond upon exposure to environmental toxicants in general, and alkylating agents in particular. A wide variety of DNA repair pathways provide protection against DNA alkylation damage and it is now clear that a multitude of other pathways are important for cellular recovery. Our goal is to understand how these pathways function, how they are regulated, and how they integrate to determine the ultimate biological and health consequences of environmental exposures.

The Samson Lab is located on the 2nd floor of Building 56, has four Graduate Students, four Postdoctoral fellows, two Research Scientists and three Research Assistants.

Research in Computational and Systems Biology

  • Toxicogenomics by transcriptional profiling
  • Toxicogenomics by genomic phenotyping

It has long been know that DNA repair genes can be transcriptionally induced upon exposure to environmental agents such as alkylating agents. However, we now find that as many as 2000 S. cerevisiae genes (one third of the genome) are transcriptionally responsive to such damaging agents, and that there exist a large number of hitherto unknown gene regulatory networks that are activated upon exposure. For example, computational analysis of damage-induced transcriptional responses revealed an unexpected link between protein degradation pathways and DNA repair pathways. Analogous studies are being carried out in mammalian cells, tissues and animals, genetically modified to help dissect responses to DNA, protein and other molecular damage induced by environmental agents.

In parallel to transcriptional profiling, the Samson lab has adopted a functional genomics approach to identifying pathways that are important for the recovery of cells after environmental exposures. To date, 4,800 mutant S. cerevisiae strains have been subjected to high-throughput screening for their ability to recover after damage, and scores of novel pathways have been found to influence such recovery.

Other Research

  • Molecular Cell Biology
  • Cancer Biology

In addition to computational and systems biology research, the Samson lab explores the following: molecular mechanisms of spontaneous mutation; the role of DNA alkylation repair in preventing cancer, neurological disease and other hallmarks of aging (using knock out and transgenic mouse models); the application of gene therapy approaches for increasing DNA alkylation repair capacity in normal tissues during cancer chemotherapy.

Selected Publications

Last Updated: April 19, 2010