OMAR's Longest-Serving Director Ferguson Retires
By Carla Garnett
Every 10 years, Dr. John Ferguson moves his career in another direction. Before he came to NIH in 1988 as director of the Office of Medical Applications of Research, he spent a decade in private practice neurology in Waco, Tex. Before that, he concentrated on academia, serving as an associate professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. Now, after 11 years at NIH, he says it's time to switch gears once again. He retires from NIH on Sept. 30.
"I had a lot to learn when I came to NIH," he said. "This has been a fantastic job that has taught me so much. NIH is a tremendous intellectual environment. That and all the wonderfully competent people I have worked with are what I will miss most about retiring. Looking back, I also realize that I will miss being at the center of some of the controversial and political issues that surface from time to time in the Consensus Development Conferences. Interacting with the press, people writing letters, executive correspondence from Congress it was enervating. And although I wouldn't have said it then, it was fun."
Dr. John Ferguson retires at the end of this month.
Located in the Office of the Director, OMAR's role is much like a pipeline. The office works with the institutes and centers to help translate the results of biomedical research effectively into knowledge that can be used in health care practice. One mechanism OMAR uses is the Consensus Development Conference, which brings together scientists to present their expertise on a topic and a group of independent panelists who act as jurors and assess the debate. Also usually attending the conferences are patient advocates, news reporters and, sometimes, protesters. At the conference's close, a consensus statement is delivered by the panel.
"Working with the institutes and centers," Ferguson explains, "we try to choose topics about which there is a debate in the field. We then try to gather enough science to resolve the controversy."
Among the most storied conferences Ferguson recalls are the session on treatment of destructive behaviors in 1989 not long after he answered the New England Journal of Medicine job vacancy ad that eventually brought him to NIH and age guidelines for mammography, a 1997 issue that still garners debate in the medical community.
"Having recently ended an 18-year tenure at NIH, one of the things I miss the most is working with John on a daily basis," said HHS Deputy Press Officer Bill Hall, who worked with Ferguson for nearly 10 years as OMAR communications director. "While I know he's looking forward to retirement, it's a great loss for NIH. He was the perfect person to head OMAR and the CDC program. Nearly every consensus conference we did together seemed to generate controversy, some much greater than others. It never ceased to amaze me how John has always been able to remain cool and stand as the voice of reason amidst the criticism and chaos of these conferences. Clearly, John was the calm during the storm. He's going to be hard to replace."
Ferguson, who at 11 years on the job is the longest- serving OMAR director in NIH history, said his proudest accomplishments at OMAR include the steady improvements that have been made to the Consensus Development Program. In addition to having reviewed the program at national and international meetings and having the critiques published in peer-reviewed journals, he established a program to measure the impact of the CDP on health care.
"John has always wanted to know whether our program is making a difference in health care," said Dr. Charles Sherman, deputy OMAR director. "Many program managers use intuition and anecdotes to guide their decisions. John always seeks data and evidence. Under his leadership, OMAR has engaged in a continuing series of process- and impact evaluations, both of individual conferences and of the entire Consensus Development Program."
Ferguson has also written several papers on the use of science in the courtroom and taught judges how to evaluate scientific evidence.
"I've been in this office longer than anyone," said Jerry Elliot, OMAR program analyst, "and I've seen many directors come and go. The thing that John lent to the program in my opinion his most outstanding legacy is integrity. You always knew where he was coming from and his responses were always based on fairness and honesty."
Recently, Ferguson asked for a panel review of the consensus conference program. Upon recommendation from the panel, OMAR plans to lengthen the preparation period before conferences convene, and extend the deliberation time of the panel. Also, higher-level advisors will be appointed to CDP's oversight committee.
OMAR Program Analyst Elsa Bray said she admired Ferguson's intellectual curiosity and his enthusiasm and courage to navigate uncharted waters. "He saw a need and felt an ethical responsibility to find a way to immediately get clinical alerts to physicians and the public about findings from clinical trial results to prevent morbidity and mortality," she recalled.
Over the years, Ferguson has never entirely abandoned any of the different positions he has held: He continues his clinical neurology practice, seeing patients at National Naval Medical Center once a week; and he remains in academia, serving as a clinical professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences since 1995. From 1989 to 1991, he also served as acting NIH associate director for disease prevention. As is his custom, when he retires from NIH, he won't be going far away from federal service or even HHS for very long: He will serve out a 4-year term as chair of the panel on laboratory and diagnostic services of the Health Care Financing Administration's medical coverage advisory committee.
"It's been a remarkable 11 years," he says. "I've learned a huge amount about health policy. NIH has a great deal of admirable science going on here and it was great to be associated with it. My experience has given me a new appreciation for science, politics and the public. I know I'll be using some of these experiences in my jobs as a consultant."
Fraumeni Retires from Commissioned Corps
Rear Adm. Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., assistant surgeon general and director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI, retired earlier this year from the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. During his 37 years of service, he distinguished himself as a scientist, administrator and role model for countless officers in the Commissioned Corps as well as members of the federal civil service. Under Fraumeni's directorship, DCEG has become the premier research program for population-based studies on the genetic and environmental determinants of cancer. Also as a scientific director at NIH, he has made significant contributions to the mission of PHS. He will continue to serve as the division's director and as a scientific director under a Title 42 appointment.
Fraumeni is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities in cancer epidemiology and genetics. Among his pioneering studies of genetic and familial cancers are the discovery and delineation of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, an inherited condition predisposing susceptible family members to a diversity of cancers. This work serves as a paradigm for interdisciplinary studies in cancer etiology and prevention. In the area of environmental carcinogenesis, he was instrumental in the development of computer-generated color-coded U.S. cancer atlases displaying geographic variations in cancer mortality at the county level, and providing clues for a series of in-depth NCI studies aimed at identifying specific causes of unusual patterns. This landmark accomplishment has been emulated by countries around the world. Fraumeni's productivity as a researcher is reflected in a bibliography approaching 700 publications, which include important books on the cause and prevention of cancer.
RADM Joseph F. Fraumeni Jr. (l) is greeted by Capt. Robert Hoover.
At a recent party, the division staff and NIH senior leadership paid tribute to Fraumeni for his contributions. Joining the well-wishers were Fraumeni's wife, Trisha, his niece, Julie, and other friends and former division members. In a formal ceremony including a PHS flag detail, Fraumeni received several PHS mementos including a sword, commemorative coin, lapel pin and an American flag, which had flown over the U.S. Capitol Building.
NINDS's Hambrecht Retires After 30 Years
By Shannon E. Garnett
Dr. F. Terry Hambrecht, a pioneer in the field of neural prostheses and director of the NINDS Neural Prosthesis Program, recently retired after 30 years of government service, all with NINDS.
"I always felt honored to be at NIH and to be able to work with so many creative people," said Hambrecht. "I think that together the scientists, the contracting officers and the secretaries we were able to develop some truly useful devices for neurologically disabled individuals."
Dr. F. Terry Hambrecht
For 27 years Hambrecht has stood at the helm of the prosthesis program, guiding it from a few scientists and engineers sharing ideas at a meeting, to a premier program that plays a major role in restoring function to the injured nervous system and in helping individuals with disabilities regain some degree of normal function.
Many disabilities such as deafness, blindness and paralysis occur when the connections between nerves or between muscles and nerves are lost. The Neural Prosthesis Program which combines studies of the neurophysiological principles of the nervous system with advances in artificial implant materials, technology, and electronic engineering directs research on the development of devices to provide substitute signals for these lost nerve connections.
Investigators working in the program have produced a number of implantable devices, including a hand prosthesis that gives some paralyzed persons the ability to use their hands to grasp objects. Perhaps the most well-known of the program's devices, however, is the cochlear implant an electronic device that is now restoring a degree of hearing to more than 30,000 deaf people.
"It is hard to leave a program that you feel is your 'baby,' but I know it is in good hands and will continue to thrive," said Hambrecht.
He earned a bachelor of science degree in 1961 from Purdue University, and a master of science degree in 1963 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in electrical engineering. In 1968, he earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University, and trained at Duke University in the department of surgery until 1969.
Upon completion of his internship, he began his research career in the NINDS Laboratory of Neural Control, and continued there until he retired. In 1970, he served as assistant project officer of the Sensory Prosthesis Program. With his medical and engineering background, Hambrecht was a natural leader in bioengineering. Thus, in 1972, he was chosen to head the new NINDS Neural Prosthesis Program.
Throughout his career, Hambrecht has garnered many accolades and honors including the Goldenson Technology Award from the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, the U.S. Public Health Service Commendation, Meritorious Service and Distinguished Service Medals, and the DHHS Secretary's Distinguished Volunteer Service Award. In 1990, because of his volunteer activities with disabled individuals, he was invited to the White House as a Point of Light to meet President and Mrs. Bush. Additionally, in 1992, he was elected as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.
Aside from his professional duties, he has developed several hobbies that include studying the history of medicine during the American Civil War and collecting antique medical instruments. In fact, Hambrecht who owns more than 500 such devices cofounded the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., and currently serves as its senior technical advisor.
Hambrecht became interested in collecting antique instruments while developing neural prosthetic devices. "It was obvious that many of the ideas behind the devices have been around for many years but lacked the technology to realize them," he explained. "I began searching for the historical origins of the biological discoveries as well as the physical principles upon which the needed techno-logy was based. In pursuing the history, I became fascinated by the early attempts to apply the research findings and by tools such as early stethoscopes, ophthalmoscopes and hearing aids."
He bought his first antique instrument, an amputating saw, in a used book store in Maine about 25 years ago. "It was easy to find them in flea markets and antiques shops because few people recognized them," he said. "I found that the desire to collect an item didn't stop once I found one example, because it seems like there are endless varieties of each."
In retirement, Hambrecht wants to travel with his recent bride, the former Maureen Volz, a program analyst at NINDS. He will continue to search for old medical devices, and to work as a volunteer with disabled individuals and at the museum. And, from time to time, he can still be found on the NIH campus serving as a special consultant on auditory prostheses for NIDCD.
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