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NIDCR Mourns Herschel Horowitz

By Mary Daum

Dr. Herschel S. Horowitz once said he was "mystified" as to how he ended up becoming a dentist. He had no family members who were dentists and said he had no particular affinity for dentistry. Moreover, he claimed he didn't excel at clinical practice. But he found a niche within the profession as a researcher and public health dentist, a career he loved and one that helped build the foundation for modern preventive dentistry.

Dr. Herschel S. Horowitz
Horowitz, a leader in public health dentistry and a dental caries researcher at NIDR (now NIDCR), died Aug. 10. He was 71.

"He was an accomplished researcher, public health advocate and a good friend," said Dr. Dushanka Kleinman, NIDCR's deputy director and chief dental officer, Public Health Service. "Not many people have the opportunity to directly affect the health of the public. Hersh did. His research contributed greatly to the dramatic decline in dental caries rates over the past 40 years. We will miss him."

Horowitz's research focused on the effectiveness of fluoride mouth rinses, toothpastes and gels, dental sealants and water fluoridation. His work established the foundation for many caries prevention programs.

He was born in Detroit in 1932. In school he was asked what he wanted to study in college and he answered "dentistry" although he later said he really couldn't remember why. He attended Wayne State University in his native city where he pursued a pre-dental course of study. He then was accepted into the University of Michigan's School of Dentistry. "He claims he was miserable the entire four 'penitential' years — as he called them — of dental school," said his wife of almost 33 years, Dr. Alice Horowitz, a senior scientist at NIDCR. "He even told his mother that what he really wanted to do was drop out of school and become a singer." (She said okay, but he stayed in school.) After dental school he joined the Army as the post dentist at Camp Kure, Japan, then returned to Detroit where he worked as a dentist for the city.

Then he had a chance meeting with a student in Michigan's master's of public health program. He later said that the meeting "sealed his future." Here was an opportunity to participate in dentistry from a different angle. In 1960, he earned his M.P.H. from the University of Michigan and also joined the Commissioned Corps as a public health dentist.

As he told it, his first assignments were less than thrilling. But then he heard about an opening for a field investigator. He later said he didn't really know what a field investigator did, but he told them he was interested. He got the job. His assignments with the PHS took him to Washington, D.C., and then to San Francisco. In 1971, the NIDR director recruited him to head the community programs section in the Caries Prevention and Research Branch. He then served as chief of the clinical trials section, Epidemiology and Oral Disease Prevention Program until his retirement in 1985.

"Hersh said he felt as if he made a silk purse out of a sow's ear," said Dr. Alice Horowitz. "He didn't feel suited to the traditional practice of dentistry, but discovered the public health and research aspects of the profession, which he loved."

He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the H. Trendley Dean Award from the International Association for Dental Research, the John W. Knutson Distinguished Service Award in Dental Public Health from the American Public Health Association, and the Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Public Health Dentistry.

Horowitz was also a singer, composer and avid art collector, specializing in American prints of the first half of the 20th century. He was a member of the Washington Print Club and for several years served as its secretary-treasurer.

He is survived by his wife; a stepson, Robert Johnson; a stepdaughter, Jan Coulter; three step granddaughters; a niece and nephew; and three grandnieces and one grandnephew.

NIH Mourns Death of Visiting Scientist Nam

Dr. Kiebang Nam, a visiting scientist at NICHD in the Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Development, died Sept. 1 of liver cancer. He would have turned age 47 on Sept. 25. At the time of his death, Nam had been nominated for a promotion to permanent staff scientist at NICHD.

Dr. Kiebang Nam in 2002, just after he ran the NIH relay race as a member of his lab's team, "The Mobile Elements."

"All of us at NICHD are shocked and saddened by Dr. Nam's sudden and unexpected passing," said Dr. Duane Alexander, NICHD director. "Dr. Nam was a kind, generous and warm-hearted person, devoted to his family, his friends and his church. He was equally devoted to his colleagues, his institute and his research."

Alexander added that, before his untimely death, Nam made many important contributions to the study of the metabolism of messenger RNA (mRNA) and the function of retrotransposons, retrovirus-like entities that convert mRNA into DNA.

"He was an outstanding scientist and colleague and a true partner in research," Alexander said. "We will miss him greatly."

Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Nam earned a B.S. from Seoul National University. In 1984, he came to the United States for graduate school, earning an M.S. from North Texas State University and a Ph.D. in biology from Texas A&M University, where he trained with one of the leading scientists in the study of the genetics of viruses that infect bacteria.

As a postdoctoral fellow in the department of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, he pursued his interest in the relationship between viruses and host cells through the study of retrotransposons. While there, he completed work on studies published in five different peer-reviewed journals.

After 3 years at Johns Hopkins, Nam was recruited by the Samsung Biomedical Research Institute and returned to Seoul to start his own laboratory of molecular biology. He then decided to continue his research career in the U.S., and in March 2000, left Korea with his family and came to NICHD.

While at the institute, Nam continued to pursue his research interest in retrotransposons. Transposons are close relatives of retroviruses such as HIV and, therefore, serve as important model systems. By using powerful genetic techniques, Nam studied transposons to gain an understanding of the processes underlying retrovirus replication in yeast. He also devised unique experiments to study the yeast genes required for transporting retrotransposons into the yeast nucleus, where they replicate. Nam initiated an ambitious project and identified a gene (called psy1) involved in this function. He also began a new project to study how a virus selects which sites in the yeast genome to insert its DNA. At the time of his death, he had made an exciting discovery into the nature of the mechanism that the retrotransposon uses to bind to the DNA at the site where it inserts itself into the yeast genome.

"In science, it takes great courage to start out on a new direction with new techniques, and Kiebang did that many times," said Dr. Henry Levin, head, section of eukaryotic transposable elements at NICHD and Nam's supervisor. "Not only was he a lot of fun to work with — teasing that he could do calculations in his head faster than I could do them with a calculator, and he was right — but he was dedicated to his research and committed to teaching students. He was a great influence on the lab with his steady hand and steady head. We have lost a good colleague and a very decent person."

Nam is survived by his wife, Jongmin, and three children.

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