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NEI's Barbara Underwood Retires

By Michael Coogan

Dr. Barbara Underwood, considered one of the world's foremost authorities in the field of nutrition and the biochemical aspects of vitamin A, retired from the National Eye Institute on Feb. 27.

Dr. Barbara Underwood

She joined NEI in September 1982 as a special assistant to the director, with responsibility for the nutrition research and international programs. In April 1989, she was named assistant director for international program activities. Underwood helped establish the institute's successful collaborative research program with the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, India, and other institutions in India. As a result of her research, she wrote several articles related to vitamin A deficiency, cataract and other eye problems in India, which in turn facilitated development of programs that help control and treat eye disease in that country and elsewhere.

"Largely because of Dr. Underwood's efforts, the NEI's collaboration with scientists and researchers in India and other countries continues today," said NEI director Dr. Carl Kupfer. "Barbara's research has led to identifying the cause of many visual disorders affecting developing countries. She has been a crusader in promoting the importance of improved nutrition in delaying or preventing vision problems. Barbara greatly contributed to the mission of the NEI, and her influence on global nutritional issues is recognized in the international arena."

Underwood earned her Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry from Columbia University, and throughout her career has been involved with basic and field research in nutrition. More recently, she has been active in policy formulation. Underwood taught and conducted research at the University of Maryland, Columbia University, Penn State, and MIT before joining NEI. "My proudest achievement has been my relationships with students, particularly international students, and working with and supporting them after they have returned to their native countries," she said.

Underwood took a leave of absence from NEI in January 1992 to serve as coordinator of the World Health Organization's micronutritional program, and returned to NEI's Division of Biometry and Epidemiology in October 1996. She has authored or coauthored more than 100 articles in the area of basic and applied nutrition and nutritional biochemistry.

In August, Underwood assumed a 4-year term as president of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences.

"We are making progress in controlling vitamin A deficiency, and even more progress with eliminating iodine deficiency disorders," she said. "But we are not doing so well in controlling iron deficiency anemia."

Underwood has accepted an honorary position at the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, where she will be a scholar in residence with the Food and Nutrition Board.

"While I am sad to leave the NEI and NIH, I am looking forward to continuing to contribute to global nutritional issues that can improve health and quality of life," she said.

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