Sayre Retires After 22 Years of Service at NIH
Dr. Michael Sayre, director of NIMHD’s Division of Integrative Biological and Behavioral Sciences (IBBS), retired from federal service in September after 22 years at NIH.
Sayre’s career at NIH started in 1999 as a scientific review officer at the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) in the then-Cell Development and Function Integrated Review Group led by Dr. Ramesh K. Nayak.
Sayre moved to the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) in 2003 to become a program officer in the Division of Research Infrastructure. In 2010, he was appointed deputy director of the division.
When NCRR was dissolved in December 2011, Sayre transitioned to NIMHD to head the newly formed Office of Research Innovation and Program Coordination in the Division of Scientific Programs. He subsequently became director of IBBS, 1 of 3 new extramural program divisions established by NIMHD’s director, Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable.
Sayre’s natural curiosity led him to pursue a career in science.
As an undergraduate student at Oregon State University, he had the opportunity to work in the laboratory of Dr. Kensal E. van Holde, a world-renowned biophysicist and pioneer in the field of chromatin research. He entrusted Sayre to perform an experiment using a Beckman Model E analytical ultracentrifuge, a room-sized piece of very expensive and intimidating equipment. His task was to determine the Svedberg coefficient of purified yeast mononucleosomes.
Sayre recalls, “When Ken saw the trace that emerged from the machine, he looked at me and said, ‘This is a clean result.’ After that, I was hooked and spent the next 18 years probing fundamental DNA-protein interactions that regulate gene expression in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. After 6 years on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University studying yeast gene regulation in a very crowded field, I had an opportunity to transition to research administration at NIH, one of the best career moves I ever made.”
Working at NIH enabled Sayre to see the bigger picture in biomedical research and the importance of translating basic biological research advances into clinical applications to improve public health. Sayre credits Nayak at CSR for giving him that incredible opportunity.
In addition to his role as a researcher and scientist, Sayre has also been an excellent mentor who provided guidance and encouragement, helping several staff members at NIMHD achieve promotions and advance their careers. In 2016 and 2017, two of his nominees each received the NIH Harvey J. Bullock Jr. Award for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Throughout his career, Sayre published over 30 peer-reviewed research articles.
Recognized for his exemplary work and contributions to science, he received several awards, including the NIH Award of Merit in 2020, the 2017 NIH Director’s Award for his contribution to the Diversity Program Consortium Team and the NIH Director’s Award in 2011 as part of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill Team.
After retirement, Sayre looks forward to spending more quality time with his wife and family, developing their pollinator-friendly garden, birdwatching, re-learning how to cook and traveling to exotic locales when the coronavirus pandemic subsides.