Chief LeRoith Retires
A spirited love of science, an inquisitive collegiality and just
the right amount of serendipity have made Dr. Derek LeRoith an
international expert in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). After
a 26-year career with NIDDK, he moved in September to Mt. Sinai
School of Medicine to open a lab and a new diabetes patient care
He has long had a dual interest in both research and clinical
care. After an initial stint in NIDDK labs (then known as the National
Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
as a visiting scientist, LeRoith left NIH in 1983 to teach at the
University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine and to direct the
university's diabetes outpatient clinics in Ohio.
|Dr. Derek LeRoith (l) poses
with his research team, including (standing, from l) Dr. Patricia
Pennisi, Dr. Stefania Santopietro, Hui Sun, Dr. Shoshana Yakar,
Christine Biser and Dr. Kenjiro Inagaki. Kneeling are Bethel
Stannard (l) and Jennifer Setser-Portas.
I was anxious to get him back. He was so good," remembers Dr.
Jesse Roth, the NIDDK scientific director who convinced LeRoith
to return as a senior investigator in 1984. Other senior scientists
in the branch were studying insulin, and LeRoith directed his talents
to the complementary study of the IGF system at what turned out
to be a propitious time: the new science of molecular biology was
just beginning to influence endocrinology. LeRoith had an affinity
for the new technology, and his study of the peptide's cell biology
began to widen understanding of the role of IGF-1 in normal growth
Within 2 years, he was chief of the branch's molecular and cellular
physiology section, and was investigating his suspicion that IGF-1
played a role in tumor formation.
"His tumor work was just terrific," says Roth, who calls LeRoith
a leader in developing understanding of IGF-1's role in cancer.
Dr. Lothar Hennighausen, chief of NIDDK's Laboratory of Genetics
and Physiology, and a mammary gland expert, agrees. "Derek was
the first to demonstrate a clear link between IGF-1 and cancer." The
two researchers got acquainted and started an NIDDK collaboration
when LeRoith was on sabbatical in Israel and Hennighausen was on
sabbatical in Germany. Studying the physiology of IGF-1 in transgenic
mice, LeRoith found that IGF-1 controlled normal mammary development,
linking the peptide to breast cancer.
Through the late nineties, the cell biology of IGF-1 and its influence
on various cancers was LeRoith's major focus. Some of his papers
detailing the expression and mechanisms of IGF-1 are classics that
have been cited hundreds of times. Today, IGF-1 studies are "prime-time," LeRoith
says, with multiple pharmaceutical companies looking for antibodies
to block IGF-1 receptors in patients with cancer. Widespread in
the body, IGF-1 also plays a role in aging, the immune system and
diabetes, where LeRoith has focused more of his work in recent
Ardent about science, and with an easygoing, down-to-earth style
that draws collaborators to his scientific inquiries, LeRoith says
the advent of molecular biology and the development of transgenic
mice as a major research tool were the sources of his most exciting
"Being able to play with genes in the lab, to successfully clone
them, was exhilarating," he explains. Working with knock-out mice
when the technology was cutting edge, and not widely used in endocrinology,
was another high. "I love it when interesting results alter the
theories that have always been accepted. NIH allowed me to do this
risky kind of work."
"NIH is the perfect place for that," agrees Dr. Charles Roberts,
professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health Sciences University, a
longtime friend and former colleague who came to NIH to collaborate
with LeRoith as a special expert in molecular biology. "Derek took
full advantage of the NIH environment: he pulled together talented
people and used the resources of the intramural program to produce
an important body of work." To date, LeRoith's bibliography boasts
509 papers, many of which have shaped the field, according to Hennighausen.
But all that work did not make Derek a dull boy. Colleagues describe
him as a very genuine, open person who is also a lover of life,
full of personality and good humor. "You knew if you got him going
on a certain topic, you'd get some funny stories," says Betty Diggs,
executive director of the American Diabetes Association's Washington,
D.C., chapter. Roberts calls him "a wild and crazy guy," a description
best illustrated by LeRoith's appearance at an Endocrine Society
meeting held in Las Vegas. To howls of laughter from his IGF colleagues,
LeRoith took the podium for his keynote speech outfitted in an
Elvis costume, complete with spangles and full wig. "He's a good
wise guy," says Roth.
||Keynote speaker LeRoith makes
a surprise appearance at an Endocrine Society dinner in Las
A native of South Africa, LeRoith is just as well known for wearing "desert
garb, Israeli-style." Friends swear he sports his trademark shorts
and sandals 10 months of the year. "My suspicion is that he only
owns one pair of long pants," jokes Roberts.
However many serious discussions of challenging scientific questions
he's been part of over the years, however many genes and knock-out
mice he's studied, LeRoith has never lost sight of other important
perspectives: shepherding young scientists into successful research
careers and bringing the benefits of the bench to the bedside. "He
really did have a good grasp of the science-medicine connections," says
Roberts. "He always asked 'What's the clinical connection?'"
He has combined his love of mentoring and his concern for improving
clinical practice with considerable administrative skills, say
colleagues, to foster scientific communication and to translate
state-of-the-art science to practitioners. Since 1990, he has administered
the Mid-Atlantic Diabetes Research Symposium, a popular program
that brings young scientists together annually to share their work
in poster sessions.
During the same period, he has also put together a "Diabetes Update" for
clinicians every other year. "He wanted to provide the most current
information from the best minds available at the time," says Diggs
of ADA, a co-sponsor of the biannual event. A "superb speaker" who
was much in demand, LeRoith was able to translate complex scientific
findings into knowledge that clinicians could use in practice. "They
walked away understanding what he was talking about — it's
a rare gift," she adds.
Appointed chief of the Diabetes Branch in 1999, LeRoith initiated
an intramural diabetes interest group that drew researchers from
ICs outside NIDDK to encourage more inter-institute collaborations.
He also founded a group called Cadre to promote diabetes education
in primary care, and since 2000, has worked on conferences for
the Endocrine Fellows Foundation. He has personally nurtured more
than 80 fellows over his NIH career.
Now he has taken his enthusiasms to Mt. Sinai, where he will run
the division of endocrine metabolism, which will emphasize basic
research in diabetes. He will also establish a center for diabetes
intensive care in an effort to improve diabetes care long-term.
"It's a good time to go," LeRoith says, although it's sad to say
goodbye to the friends and colleagues he's had for 26 years. "I
will also miss coming to work in shorts and sandals every day," he
adds. "Now he'll have to buy two suits and two ties," notes Roth.
LeRoith got his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town
. He has given visiting professor lectures at numerous institutions,
including the USSR Academy of Sciences and Ben Gurion University
of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel.
Two NIH'ers Honored by ASTRO
The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology
and Oncology (ASTRO) honored two National Cancer Institute employees
at its 47th annual meeting last month. Dr.
C. Norman Coleman (l), associate director of NCI's Radiation
Research Program in the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis,
and director of the Radiation Oncology Sciences Program, was
awarded the Gold Medal. Dr. Francis J. Mahoney, chief of NCI's
Radiotherapy Development Branch, received ASTRO's Honorary Member
Award. The Gold Medal, ASTRO's highest honor, is bestowed on "members
who have made outstanding contributions to the field of radiation
oncology, including research, clinical care, teaching and service," according
to the society's web site. An honorary membership is the highest
ASTRO award given to "distinguished cancer researchers and leaders
in disciplines other than radiation oncology, radiation physics
or radiobiology." Founded in 1958, the society's mission is to
advance the practice of radiation oncology. ASTRO has more than
7,500 members, making it the largest organization of its kind.
Dionne Joins NINR as New Scientific Director
The National Institute of Nursing Research has appointed Dr.
Raymond Dionne as new scientific director of its Division
of Intramural Research. He comes to NINR from the National Institute
of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Dionne is nationally recognized for his research on pain management,
specifically variability in patients who experience pain and the
mechanisms underlying how medication administered pre- and post-operatively
reduces pain. His research program, together with his experience
in managing clinical studies and mentoring young investigators,
will be instrumental in advancing NINR's intramural program.
NINR director Dr. Patricia Grady said, "Dr. Dionne's experience
as chief of NIDCR's Pain and Neurosensory Mechanisms Branch will
make him a valuable addition to our team. We look forward to him
providing leadership to NINR's ongoing efforts to build a cutting-edge
intramural program that contributes to nursing science through
the investigation of bio-behavioral mechanisms associated with
the symptoms of acute and chronic illness."
NIAAA's Kunos Wins Award
Dr. George Kunos, scientific director for the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, received the 2005 Mechoulam Award
from the International Cannabinoid Research Society. The award
recognizes outstanding contributions to research on cannabinoids,
chemicals — like those derived from marijuana — that
stimulate the brain's reward system by binding to cannabinoid-1
Kunos is a leader in the field investigating endocannabinoids — endogenous,
or naturally occurring, lipid-like compounds produced by the brain
and other tissues. His work with knockout mice demonstrated that
endocannabinoids acting on CB-1 receptors mediate the rewarding
and pleasurable properties of alcohol, contributing to alcohol
dependency and abuse. Endocannabinoids also have an important role
in obesity, regulating both appetite and peripheral fat metabolism.
Such findings are now being translated into clinical research.
An ongoing clinical study at NIAAA's Intramural Research Program
is examining whether a novel medication that blocks CB-1 receptors
could potentially help heavy drinkers overcome the craving for
The award was presented to Kunos during the society's recent annual
symposium in Clearwater, Fla. The award is named after Raphael
Mechoulam, an Israeli medicinal chemist renowned for discovering
endocannabinoids and, earlier, for identifying delta- 9-tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC) as the psychoactive principle of marijuana.
NINR Director Grady Honored
The Medical University of South Carolina honored Dr.
Patricia A. Grady (l), director of the National Institute
of Nursing Research, with the degree of doctor of science, honoris
causa, at recent ceremonies in Charleston. Dr. Raymond Greenberg,
president of MUSC, conferred the honorary doctorate on Grady.
Dr. Gail W. Stuart, dean and professor of nursing at the MUSC
College of Nursing, cited Grady's extraordinary contributions
to our nation's health. "She has helped bring critical research
from the laboratory to the bedside and into our communities," she
said. "Dr. Grady has established herself as a role model for
faculty in the College of Nursing and as a source of inspiration
for professionals of all disciplines."
CIT's Madeline Lee Mourned
Madeline Lee, an information technology specialist in CIT's Enterprise
Business Intelligence Branch, died June 21 of ovarian cancer, just
short of her 52nd birthday. Her entire 33-year federal career was
A native Washingtonian, Lee graduated from Robert E. Peary High
School in 1971 and subsequently obtained an entry-level position
at NIH. From 1972 to 1979, she worked as a secretary at the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
She won a position in the NIH Stride program and enrolled at American
University. From 1979 to 1982, she worked as a computer assistant
at the Clinical Center. In 1982, she received her B.S. degree from
AU in technology of management and graduated magna
For the past 23 years, Lee worked in the information technology
field as a computer programmer, rising to the position of IT specialist
and expert for the Data Warehouse (DW) and nVision Travel Business
Lee was an exceptional employee. Over the course of her tour at CIT,
she received numerous awards and citations for her in-depth knowledge
of her field, finesse, analytical ability and attention to detail
when creating DW and nVision travel reports for Congress and other
Lee's many friends and colleagues remember her as a quiet, caring
and loving spirit. "Madeline was a devoted staff member who provided
both operational and technical support in the development and maintenance
of the comprehensive decision support system for the NIH," said
John Price, chief of her branch. "She consistently demonstrated
accuracy and thoroughness, and earned the respect and admiration
of team members for her mastery of knowledge on the NIH travel
business processes and data management. She will be sorely missed,
on many levels."
Lee is survived by her husband Donald, her son, Brandon, her father
and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Art Ping Lee, five siblings, in-laws and
many nieces and nephews.
Contributions in her memory may be sent to the Muscular Dystrophy
Association, 6301 Ivy Lane, Suite 108, Greenbelt, MD 20770.
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