NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

‘House of Hope’ Enters New Phase

At Latest Town Hall, CC’s Future To Be Determined by Those Who Know It Best

CC director Dr. John Gallin speaks at Town Hall.
CC director Dr. John Gallin at Town Hall event

Photo:  Ernie Branson

People who know the Clinical Center best should take the lead in shaping its future. That was the message Sept. 7 at the latest CC Town Hall Meeting to give a progress report on NIH’s effort to restructure hospital operations. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins also introduced several new NIH staff members and components involved in strengthening the Clinical Center and encouraged a new outlook.

“Our efforts here will shape the future of biomedicine and the future of every single patient that comes through our doors seeking answers and looking for hope, because we are, after all, the House of Hope,” said Collins, who opened his remarks with a “big shout-out” to CC staff.

“I think you are among the most dedicated and visionary medical researchers and caregivers on the planet,” he said, noting that he has recently been going on patient rounds with some of the CC’s ward teams. “I see your commitment to outstanding patient care and extraordinary scientific accomplishment as truly inspiring. Thanks to you, many lives have been saved and many more will be saved in the future…The Clinical Center is rightly a national treasure. Our goals with the steps that are under way and that we’ll be talking about today are not to do anything that would harm that status as a national treasure; no, but instead to make that national treasure even more perfect.”

Dr. Griffith speaks from the audience.
Dr. Andy Griffith, who will oversee a new research support and compliance office, addresses an issue during the open mic portion of the town hall meeting.

Photo:  Ernie Branson

Restructuring was prompted more than a year ago, following discovery of major lapses in preparation of sterile injectables in the pharmacy. That led to a comprehensive review of the hospital by an external team of experts known as the Red Team, which offered a critical appraisal and a number of recommendations to enhance patient safety.

At this town hall, Collins urged NIH’ers to recognize the Red Team recommendations as a starting point, but to develop our own improvement plan.

Let’s “collectively say, ‘Maybe there are some things that we could be even better at,’” he suggested. The inclination now should be “not to defend against what was already said, but to consider improving in ways that haven’t been mentioned…People [already here] know a lot more about the Clinical Center than any external group ever will,” he said, talking to an audience composed mainly of CC staff. “You probably have some ideas about things that could run more smoothly, things that could be better for research and better for patient care. That’s what we want to capture…I hope we take this opportunity to think positively and creatively about how to make this place even more amazing.”

Dr. Gottesman speaks onstage.
The new office falls under the purview of Dr. Michael Gottesman (above), NIH deputy director for intramural research.

Photo:  Ernie Branson

CC director Dr. John Gallin, who in August accepted a newly created dual position as NIH associate director for clinical research and chief scientific officer for the Clinical Center, expressed his eagerness to get started on a new path forward.

His new role, he said, will allow him “to help expedite some of the very positive changes that will transform our clinical research resources to levels that have not previously been possible. For this to happen, we all need to embrace some new activities.”

He described seven major functions of his new post:

  • Oversight of scientific review for all clinical protocols in the intramural program
  • Setting priorities across institutes and centers for clinical research conducted here
  • Oversight of strategic planning for intramural clinical research
  • Review of IC directors’ oversight of their clinical directors
  • Scientific direction of the CC, overseeing independent research programs of investigators working at the CC
  • Developing strategic partnerships to expand clinical research collaborations among intramural and extramural programs, and
  • Oversight of clinical research training programs.

“I’m anxious to get things moving quickly—even before the new CEO is identified,” he said. “The initial priorities will be the first two duties…I look forward to pursuing this new adventure with you.”

Dr. Collins speaks to the crowd.
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins urges CC staff to “take this opportunity to think positively and creatively about how to make this place even more amazing.”

Photo:  Credit Ernie Branson

NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman talked briefly about two new groups that will also help map out new ways for the Clinical Center to operate: a steering committee consisting of senior NIH clinicians and leaders, chaired by Gottesman, and a CC engagement working group representing a cross-section of NIH that will organize focus sessions to collect essential commentary and suggestions from those who know the CC best—staff and patients.

“We all know that the Clinical Center is the physical and emotional heart of the NIH campus and what you do is provide hope to all of the patients who come here, sometimes with profoundly difficult and debilitating diseases,” Gottesman noted. “The purpose of the meeting today is to get your input on a process we are assembling to allow you to be the determinants of the change we make at NIH. It’s really important that the people who work in the trenches are involved in the changes that are inevitably going to happen. And we want this opportunity for you to speak up about the process we’re going to use.”

Collins introduced several other new components and members of the CC leadership team:

  • NIDCD scientific director Dr. Andy Griffith will oversee the new Office of Research Support and Compliance (ORSC) until a permanent director is recruited. He will chair the CC engagement working group.
  • Dr. Bruce Burnett, a regulatory compliance expert on loan from Duke University for a year, will play a leading role with ORSC.
  • A lawyer with expertise in human subjects protection, Valerie Bonham, has joined NIH as ORSC deputy.
  • Dr. Majid Tanas began work last month as new chief of the pharmacy; Dr. Carolyn Lawrencot is senior regulatory affairs specialist for pharmaceuticals development.

Leading the discussion with the focus groups, which will consist of NIH staff, will be Stewart Simonson, former HHS assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness (2001-2006).

Mr. Simonson speaks at town hall.
Stewart Simonson says his happiest HHS memories occurred here. He’ll lead CC focus group discussions.

Photo:  Ernie Branson

“My happiest memories of that time are here at NIH,” he said, moderating the open mic portion of the town hall. “Of this place, I have nothing but happy memories. On this campus, there is no place more important to me than the Clinical Center. [Former HHS Secretary Tommy] Thompson used to say the Clinical Center was, in his experience, ‘the most moving, the most tender-hearted and the most impressive institution in all of HHS.’ And my experience was that too.”

He said he’s prepared to convene “as many focus groups as interest warrants…There are no limits within reason to what we will discuss. The purpose of these sessions is not to re-litigate or flyspeck the Red Team report, [but] I also don’t want to suppress discussion in any way…What comes out of these focus groups will be faithfully carried forward to the new CEO, the hospital board and to Bldg. 1.”

The focus groups that Simonson leads will be formed from NIH staff who can sign up at http://intranet.cc.nih.gov/focusgroups.html.

Dr. Gallin speaks onstage.
Gallin talks about his new post, which is also strategically located within OIRM.

Photo:  Ernie Branson

Collins summarized the first meeting of the new hospital board of directors, held in July. He mentioned that the CEO search, under way across the nation, will close soon.

“Your input is an essential component of the decision-making process,” he concluded. “I know that change can be sometimes unsettling and disruptive, and we want to hear your thoughts about how to make this place even better…Change can be unsettling, but standing still in an area where science is changing rapidly, and so is medical care, would be potentially even more perilous. The promise of change—especially sagely directed by the insights and experience of one of our nation’s most brilliant and caring workforces, that’s you—is very compelling.”

NIH’ers can view the entire meeting at https://videocast.nih.gov/summary.asp?Live=19661&bhcp=1.

Today’s Scientists, Tomorrow’s Leaders

Crowd of young scientists gathers outdoors
Twenty-nine early career researchers visit NIH for the 2016 Future Research Leaders Conference.

Photo:  Credit Ernie Branson

What, exactly, goes on in NIH’s 200 intramural research labs? How are they different from university labs and why should a young investigator start a career here?

“NIH is an amazing opportunity,” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins told 29 early career researchers visiting NIH for the 2016 Future Research Leaders Conference (FRLC).

The event is sponsored by NIH’s inaugural chief officer for scientific workforce diversity Dr. Hannah Valantine. Her office invited 29 scientists from across the country to Bethesda for two important reasons: to introduce them to the unique work environment at NIH and to connect NIH intramural scientists to great talent.

In opening remarks, Valantine emphasized the human side of science. “Connecting people with common scientific interests is as important as the science itself,” she said.

And that is what the FRLC did. An intense 3-day experience featured talks from top leadership, including Collins, Valantine, IRP head Dr. Michael Gottesman and NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons. Participants gave research talks, presented posters and met one-on-one with NIH scientific directors and branch chiefs—about 100 meetings were held. A half-day seminar on NIH grant process and meetings with NIH program and review staff rounded out the schedule.

Most conference participants are from underrepresented groups in the sciences. Most are past recipients of NIH-funded diversity supplements, which enable NIH-funded researchers at universities to bring diverse students and postdocs into their labs for research experiences and mentoring.

The FRLC is intentionally embedded within the NIH Research Festival, giving attendees the opportunity to fully engage with this annual celebration of NIH science.

Said attendee Esther Obeng, from Harvard Medical School, “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people…People that had been here for years and told me why they haven’t left…what they loved about NIH.”—Alison Davis

Plaque Commemorates Research Animals

Scientists unveil outdoor plaque.
Unveling the plaque are NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) and NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman.

Photo:  Credit Ernie Branson

The NIH intramural animal research advisory committee and the IC animal program directors dedicated a plaque that commemorates “research animals and the NIH animal care and use community that have contributed to our exceptional biomedical research advances” at a Sept. 16 ceremony on the Clinical Center’s south lawn. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins presented remarks at the program, part of Research Festival.

“I hope, going forward, when the next breakthrough happens here on the NIH campus—some big development that has big promise for human health—that people will walk by this plaque and recognize how we got there,” Collins said. “The animals that we depended on are also part of that celebration...we can look back on their contribution and their sacrifice and be truly grateful.”

Collins understands how important animals are to research. His laboratory studies Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, an exceedingly rare progressive disorder that causes children to age rapidly. Progeria affects roughly 250 children worldwide.

After discovering the cause of the syndrome, he began studying potential treatments. With help from the “wonderful” animal care staff at NHGRI, including its retired animal program director Dr. Shelley Hoogstraten-Miller, Collins’ lab developed mouse models of progeria. One therapeutic showed enough promise in mouse models to be tested in a clinical trial. Results from the trial suggest the drug extends the lives of patients by 4 or 5 years. A second complementary therapy is currently being tested.

“All of this is dependent on that mouse model and all of those animals that have been involved in this research,” Collins said.

Scientists at outdoor commemorative plaque
Also on hand for the event are (from c) retired animal program director Dr. Shelley Hoogstraten-Miller, NEI senior investigator Dr. Rachel Caspi and Dr. Terri Clark, director of the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use.

Photo:  Credit Ernie Branson

He thanked staff involved in animal care at NIH. “I’m impressed and touched every day by what I see,” he concluded. “A lot of people don’t know about it, but I know about it. Thank you to all
of you.”

The ceremony also featured remarks by NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, NEI senior investigator Dr. Rachel Caspi and Hoogstraten-Miller. Dr. Terri Clark, director of the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use, hosted the ceremony.

Clark credited Hoogstraten-Miller for coming up with the idea to permanently recognize the contributions of research animals. The plaque, which features the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use logo along with the words, “With recognition and gratitude to the research animals and the NIH animal care and use community that have contributed to our biomedical research advances,” is affixed atop a tree-shaded stone near the CC’s south entry. Two benches surround the mulched area where the memorial sits.—Eric Bock

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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Assistant Editor: Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov (link sends e-mail)

Staff Writer: Amber Snyder
Amber.Snyder@nih.gov (link sends e-mail)