NIGMS Minority Program Directors Honored
Four NIGMS minority program directors were among year 2000 recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The awards recognize influential institutions and individuals who have been leaders in encouraging minorities, women and disabled persons to pursue careers in the scientific, engineering and technical labor force.
The recipients included Dr. Glenn Kuehn, a professor of biochemistry at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces; Dr. Michael Summers, a professor of chemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Dr. Luis Villarreal, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at the University of California, Irvine; and Dr. Maria Elena Zavala, a professor of biology at California State University, Northridge.
Kuehn directs a Bridges to the Future program and a Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program; Summers directs an MBRS program; Villarreal directs a Bridges to the Future program and an MBRS program; and Zavala directs a Bridges to the Future program, as well as Minority Access to Research Careers and MBRS programs.
The awards were established by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 1996 and are administered through the National Science Foundation. Each year up to 10 individuals and 10 institutions are honored with a $10,000 grant and a commemorative Presidential certificate in recognition of their mentoring activities.
Grantees Win Medal of Science
Two NIH grantees were among 12 scientists awarded the National Medal of Science the government's highest scientific honor by President Clinton on Dec. 1.
Dr. Ralph F. Hirschmann
NIGMS grantee Dr. Ralph F. Hirschmann, the Rao Makineni professor of bioorganic chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, was honored for work focusing on organic molecules that mimic naturally occurring peptide hormones. These molecules have potential therapeutic uses because they bind to hormone receptors and because many of the molecules' properties can be optimized through appropriate chemical modification.
Psychiatrist Dr. Nancy Andreasen of the University of Iowa College of Medicine won for her groundbreaking work in schizophrenia and for joining behavioral science with neuroscience and neuroimaging. She is the Andrew H. Woods chair of psychiatry at UI and a long-time National Institute of Mental Health grantee.
Congress established the National Medal of Science in 1959, a Presidential award for individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical or engineering sciences." Recognition expanded in 1980 to include social and behavioral sciences. Since its inception, 374 scientists, whose achievements have spanned decades of research, have earned this honor.
University of Chicago Honors Gellert
By Anna Gillis
Dr. Martin F. Gellert, a senior investigator in NIDDK's Laboratory of Molecular Biology, received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Chicago recently. The degree recognizes his outstanding contributions to the scientific understanding of DNA recombination and replication, and antibody diversity. According to the university's citation, Gellert's "bold forays into DNA enzymology over three decades have shown us how DNA can be broken and joined, twisted and rearranged, in the cellular choreography that underlies essential processes in phenomena as wide-ranging as the replication of genomes to the development of the human immune system."
Gellert's major accomplishments include the discovery of DNA ligase in 1967 and DNA gyrase in 1976. Ligase, the enzyme that seals together pieces of DNA, has since become a basic tool of gene splicing. Gyrase, an enzyme found in bacteria, is responsible for supercoiling DNA. Gellert and his associates discovered gyrase while they were working on "a bacteriophage recombination system that needed a mystery factor to work." When they showed that a class of antibiotics could inhibit DNA gyrase, their mystery factor, "all of a sudden what we were doing was of interest to companies," says Gellert.
For the past 10 years, he has conducted experiments to learn how humans and animals produce millions of infection-fighting antibodies from a handful of gene segments. The vertebrate immune system can recognize and respond to an infinite number of foreign bodies, or antigens, thanks to V(D)J recombination. V, D and J refer to segments of DNA that are broken and reassembled into many different combinations to make genes for immuno-globins (antibodies). Gellert has determined many of the basic principles that govern how the fragments rejoin.
V(D)J recombination, which is quite unusual, was central to the evolution of the vertebrate immune system. When the V(D)J recombination process is flawed in humans, it can lead to a severe hereditary immune deficiency.
Gellert is especially proud of his V(D)J work: "Now, we understand a lot about how genes for immunoglobins are put together."
RML Employees Honored for Fire Emergency Contributions
A few months ago, the wild fires that devastated Montana's Bitterroot Mountains also created smoky conditions and potentially dangerous air quality at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Montana. Although the town of Hamilton was never threatened by flames, work schedules of RML staff literally depended on which way the wind blew.
"Dealing with such an unusual situation was quite a challenge," said Pat Stewart, chief of administration and facilities management at RML. She directed multiple contingencies for about 6 to 7 weeks until early fall rains extinguished the fires.
RML's Pat Stewart
Stewart and her team were able to offer some relief from the thick smoke in the area by installing special air handling filters on the HVAC system and providing respirators and portable air purification equipment in the laboratories and offices.
In addition, they scheduled counselors to be available to help employees cope with the stress accompanying the possible evacuation from their homes and the possible loss of life and property. Special briefings were also arranged to keep staff apprised of the fire situation in the area.
"Despite the emergency situation surrounding all of us during the summer months, everyone pulled together as a group and kept operations on the campus running smoothly. The support from NIAID senior staff at the Bethesda campus was incredible, and I appreciate all the assistance we received from our Maryland coworkers," Stewart said.
During the crisis and despite liberal leave, most RML employees reported to work as usual, with key life-and-safety personnel present at the compound around the clock.
Recently, NIAID director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci held an awards ceremony teleconference to honor the RML employees. He also presented awards to a number of RML staff who made contributions above and beyond their normally assigned duties; awardees included Stewart, Kaye Bergman, Kevin Mora, Lynda Kieres, Leona Padrotti, Mark Mora, Randy Williamson, John Carlson and Dr. Marshall Bloom.
Edskes Receives Salzman Award
Dr. Herman Edskes has been selected as the winner of the second annual Norman P. Salzman Memorial Award in Virology; Edskes and his mentor Dr. Reed Wickner are with the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the virology interest group feted Edskes during a recent virology symposium honoring Salzman in the Cloister. Edskes presented his winning paper entitled "A protein required for prion generation: [URE3] induction requires the Ras-regulated Mks1 protein." The award commemorates Salzman, a pioneer in the field of molecular virology whose career spanned 33 years at NIH.
BIG Honors Ruffin
NIH associate director for research on minority health Dr. John Ruffin (c) accepts the Bellwether Award from Gerald R. Reed(r), national president of Blacks in Government (BIG), as Vincent A. Thomas, Jr., president of NIH's chapter of BIG, looks on. The award recognizes contributions to public health made by Ruffin over the past 10 years. His leadership and dedication to minority health issues exemplify BIG's goals and commitment to equity, excellence and opportunity.
Healthy People 2010 Vision Objectives Lauded
The new vision objectives in Healthy People 2010 were chosen to receive the 2000 Outstanding Project Award from the vision care section of the American Public Health Association at its recent meeting. For the first time since its inception in 1979, HP 2010 includes a set of objectives to improve the visual health of the nation. NEI's Rosemary Janiszewski accepted the award from Dr. R. Norman Bailey of APHA on behalf of the vision community that has worked over the years to include vision in HP 2010. Members of the vision working group were also present to receive recognition for this achievement. For more information on the Healthy People 2010 vision objectives, visit the web site http://healthyvision2010.org.
FEW Chapter Honored, Sets Next Meeting
The Bethesda chapter of Federally Employed Women (FEW) received seven national awards at a regional board meeting held recently. It won outstanding chapter, among other honors. Two members, Angela Magliozzi and Genia Bohrer, received awards for their personal contributions. Magliozzi, an employee of NIAID and former chapter president and lifetime member, received the chapter merit award along with Bohrer, immediate past president and ORS employee.
The Bethesda chapter meets the second Tuesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. on the NIH campus. It also holds bimonthly dinners, open to the public. The next dinner will be at La Panetteria on Cordell Ave. in Bethesda on Jan. 29 at 5:30 p.m. Featured will be nutritionist Sarah Blumenthal speaking on how moods affect what we eat. For more information visit www.FEWBethesda.com.
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