Leona D. Samson is the Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research focuses on how cells, tissues, animals, and people respond to environmental toxic agents, using a diverse set of approaches, including biochemistry, genetics, gene therapy, genomics, and human population-based studies. Most recently her research group developed a novel approach to monitoring how well individuals repair a battery of different kinds of DNA damage.
During her fellowship, Samson is immersing herself in the world of stem-cell biology by interacting with scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. As stem cells differentiate into more specialized cell types, it appears that they radically alter their ability to respond to toxic agents in the environment. Thus, a comprehensive understanding of how people respond when exposed to environmental agents must take such changes into consideration.
Samson earned her BSc in biochemistry from the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, and her PhD in molecular biology from University College London. Following 18 years on the Harvard School of Public Health faculty, she joined MIT in 2001 as a professor of biological engineering and the director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, a position she held until 2012. Samson has received the American Association for Cancer Research Women in Cancer Research Scholar Award, an American Cancer Society Research Professor Award, and an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, and she has been elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Medicine.