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NIAAA Deputy Director Dufour Retires

Assistant Surgeon General and NIAAA deputy director Dr. Mary Dufour retired in September from NIAAA and the PHS after 21 years with the institute. A physician epidemiologist and authority on the medical consequences of alcohol, especially its impact on women and the elderly, she has had a particularly influential role in the growth and recognition of alcohol epidemiology.

Dufour joined the institute at a time when it was making the transition from supplementing other national health surveys for information on alcohol consumption to fielding studies that focused on alcohol use and its consequences. As chief of the epidemiology branch of NIAAA's Division of Biometry and Epidemiology (DBE) and ultimately DBE director, she oversaw the design and implementation of major studies, including most recently the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). NESARC is the largest, most definitive longitudinal alcohol survey to date and will provide data on a wide range of alcohol-related issues, including the incidence and prevalence of problems, medical consequences and boundaries between safe and hazardous drinking.

Dufour has served as both DBE director and NIAAA deputy director since 1995. In addition to her supervisory and management responsibilities, Dufour represented NIAAA and alcohol science to many constituencies, addressing audiences around the world. As an assistant surgeon general in the PHS, she also provided leadership to officers in the Commissioned Corps and served on a variety of officer selection and promotion boards. As a board-certified pathologist, she also consulted with other NIH components on laboratory testing in patient care. NIAAA director Dr. T.K. Li said, "Drawing on her background as a pathologist and epidemiologist, Dr. Dufour has provided the leadership necessary to ensure that NIAAA research provided solid information about important knowledge gaps, including the particular impact of alcohol use on groups like women and the elderly."

Dufour came to NIAAA in 1982 as a fellow in the highly competitive U.S. PHS Epidemiology Training Program. At the time, she was on the pathology faculty at Eastern Virginia Medical School. As part of the epidemiology training program, she earned an M.P.H. degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, then completed 2 years of on-the-job training at the institute.

Her transition from clinical medicine to epidemiology followed a long-time interest in research, but was prompted in particular by the observation that among people who drink the same amounts of alcohol, some will develop liver disease and some won't. Instead of dealing with patients one by one, she says, epidemiology makes it possible to look at a disease as a whole and answer broader questions.

Alcohol epidemiology has particular difficulties, however. There are numerous definitions of, for example, moderate and heavy drinking. The complexities of studying a behavioral disease are better understood now and the field has grown much larger and is better integrated into broader epidemiology than it was when she first entered.

A focal interest for Dufour has been research on women's health, beginning with prize-winning research in medical school on sudden infant death syndrome. She has served for 11 years on NIH's coordinating committee for research on women's health and is chair and cofounder of the interagency coordinating committee on fetal alcohol syndrome. She has served on numerous departmental and NIH task forces related to this and a variety of other issues related to alcohol, special populations and nutrition.

Dufour earned her B.S. with honors in chemistry from Marquette University and her M.D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin. She is a recipient of the PHS Commendation Medal and the Outstanding Service Medal, and has two PHS Outstanding Unit Citations.

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