Today, most expectant mothers know the risks of smoking during pregnancy. But that wasn’t always the case.
Throughout her career at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Kathleen Shiverick, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of pharmacology and therapeutics, has shown through her research just how damaging cigarette smoke and other toxins can damage and affect a developing baby.
As a new faculty member at UF in 1978, Shiverick received funding to study the effects of cigarette smoke on the placenta. During this research, Shiverick and her team discovered that blood cells are formed in the fetal liver, meaning that if a mutation occurs there because of a toxin, it will spread to the bone marrow and, potentially, the rest of the body.
With a career of discoveries that have helped broaden understanding about the effects of toxins on the placenta as well as nutrition as a way to stymie the growth of cancerous tumors, Shiverick has become the first woman to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the college’s faculty council. The award was presented to Shiverick April 13.
“I was humbled looking at the list of past recipients, which included Dr. (Thomas) Maren, the founder of our department,” Shiverick said.
Her research projects have varied over the years, from her early work on cigarette smoke to being part of a 10-year National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded project examining the health effects of pollutants found at Superfund sites in Central Florida. Shiverick looked specifically at the effects exposure to these chemicals had on uterine and placental tissue.
During the last 10 years of her career, Shiverick’s research focus expanded to studying cancer prevention, specifically using nutrition as a way to prevent tumor growth. Shiverick and her team have been studying the effects a soy diet can have on cultured cancer cells and in an animal model. They also studied the diet in combination with radiotherapy, discovering that the soy diet not only suppressed the growth of tumors in cells and animals, but also helped ease the side effects of radiation.
“Every day when we measured the tumors we could see there was a benefit,” she said. “It is a satisfying way to end my research career.”
Shiverick is also a dedicated teacher who makes sure when students and postdoctoral fellows leave her lab they know not only techniques information but also how to be responsible and good scientists, said Allen Neims, M.D., Ph.D., a former dean of the College of Medicine who recruited Shiverick when he was chair of the department of pharmacology and therapeutics.
“This is a person who is a very committed teacher,” Neims said. “In her teaching of Ph.D. students she really insists on integrity and careful lab research, and in many ways is a really good mentor to students about doing this job in away we will all end up being proud of.”
Aside from her work in the lab and with students, Shiverick has also volunteered much of her time to dozens of college, university and national boards and committees. Some of those key roles include serving as the first woman president of the College of Medicine’s Faculty Council, helping lead a university taskforce on women students’ health care, serving on numerous NIH study sections and review groups and serving as an editor of the journal Placenta.
Now recently retired, she is still teaching some classes and interviewing students, but she also wants to spend more time on a newer passion. She hopes to work with cancer patients to lend a supportive ear and help them sort through information about medicines.
“I have a strong social commitment to giving back to the community,” she said. “That is just an important part of my values.”