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Campus Scientists Flock
Research Festival Features Rock, Talk and Walk

By Rich McManus

Photos: Rich McManus

On the Front Page...

Strung this year between the Natcher Bldg. and Masur Auditorium, the annual Research Festival had elements of both Woodstock (a rock-and-roll battle of the bands, see sidebar) and Woods Hole as thousands of intramural researchers crowded three major plenary sessions and a host of mini-symposia and poster sessions during 4 days of peace, love and sophisticated science.


"The plenary sessions (on gene therapy, transplantation and imaging) were great," said Dr. Philip Chen, NIH associate director for intramural affairs, as he hustled off to the instrumentation show sponsored by the Technical Sales Association that traditionally caps the festival. This year may have been the first in the festival's 13-year history that vendors outnumbered scientists at NIH; their wares required two gigantic tents that stole parking from the east side of the Natcher Bldg. It was easy to determine from a distance which tents featured the TSA show and which harbored rock festivals and picnic seating: suited salesfolk huddling over cell phones and the aroma of free coffee distinguished the former.

NIMH's Kwang-Lae Hoe explains his poster to colleagues during poster session III on the festival's second scientific day.

"I've enjoyed the festival — I think it's a very nice opportunity to see what different scientists at NIH are doing," said Dr. Tamar Benyosef, a postdoctoral fellow who is studying skeletal development in NHGRI's Medical Genetics Branch. Attending her first festival, she added, "The symposiums are very interesting. I went to one yesterday on craniofacial and skeletal biology, and will attend another one today."

Dr. Jean Vautrin (l) of NINDS drew a large and interested crowd to his poster.

Another rookie attendee who gave the event a thumbs-up was Dr. Pavel Savitsky, a native of Moscow, Russia, who had been at NIH all of one week as a Fogarty Center visiting postdoctoral fellow in an NHLBI laboratory when the festival began. "It's all very good," said the scientist, who immersed himself in the plenary sessions on medical imaging and gene therapy.

Janet Hauser (l) and Dr. Joanna Hill of NICHD discuss results.

He was seated near the back of a crowded Natcher main auditorium, listening to NHLBI's Dr. Elizabeth Nabel review recent advances in cardiovascular gene therapy. Already crowded once Nabel took the podium, the session ended up standing-room-only as NHLBI's Dr. Cynthia Dunbar raced through a dozen years of advances in stem cell gene therapy, followed by NHGRI's Dr. Richard Morgan, who summarized a mere decade of efforts to put genes into T cells using retroviral vectors. Both scientists reported dramatic improvements in recent years in their fields: Dunbar said that at a primate transplantation center at 5 Research Court run by Dr. Robert Donahue, much higher levels of gene transfer are occurring than just 3 years ago in monkeys; Morgan said efficiencies in his gene-transfer experiments have reached 30 percent or better recently, up from around 10 percent earlier this decade.

Postures of consideration were common at the poster sessions.

NIAAA's Kyu Shik Jeong makes a point.

Proud of their work were authors Wayne G. Butscher and Cynthia M. Haggerty of NCI.

A surprised look crosses Othman Ghribi's face as the visiting scientist from the University of Virginia's department of pathology reviews a poster.

Savita Dhanvantari of NICHD was an animated explicator of her work.

At left, NHLBI's Young Ho Kim explains his work to Taeyoon Kim. In the photo at right, Takeshi Ito of NIMH gestures to explain his work.

So dense was the transfer of scientific information from the stage that sign language interpreters were relieved every 15 minutes during the presentations.

Organized this year principally by two scientific directors — Drs. Jeffrey Trent of NHGRI and Story Landis of NINDS — and Clinical Center director Dr. John Gallin, the festival established a high standard for future Octoberfests of intramural research; to surpass it, next year's organizing committee might have to book the Rolling Stones.

Band Battle Rocks Campus

By Dr. Harrison Wein

In what may have been the most controversial event on the NIH campus since the announcement of E-biomed, the NIH Directors were defeated by the visiting band Wild Type in the 1999 NIH Research Festival's Battle of the Bands. "The outcome was fixed," Harold Varmus, director of NIH, said afterward. And he should know; he was on the judging panel.

"We think it was really disgraceful we placed second," said guitar player Dr. Francis Collins, whose day job is director of NHGRI. "If it had been a real contest, we would have won."

Fronting the NIH Directors were (from l) Drs. Stephen Katz of NIAMS, Richard Klausner of NCI and Francis Collins of NHGRI.

The event began with plenty of free hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, cookies and sodas in a tent behind the Natcher Bldg. Deejay Kenny Curtis of WBIG-FM (Oldies 100) emceed the battle, promising "some fine entertainment to amaze, or at least amuse you." He went on to explain the rules of the contest, which included: "Band members must be awake at all times," and "Under no circumstances must any band play a rendition of Stairway to Heaven."

The NIH Directors opened the battle with their unique brand of classic oldies. Collins, Dr. Stephen Katz (director of NIAMS), and Dr. Rick Klausner (director of NCI) fronted the band, playing guitar and blending their voices in harmonies that were only intermittently off-key. Chuck Ellerson, a postdoctoral fellow with NICHD, and Tracy Rouault, a research scientist with the institute, were on drums and keyboard, respectively. John O'Shea, a researcher with NIAMS, played bass guitar to round out the group.

Highlights of the Directors' set included Clone-away, based on the classic song Runaway, in which the band sang, "I'm walking through the genes/Don't know what all this means/Wishing I could find the one/So I can say I'm done...All I do is clone away/I clone, clone, clone, clone, clone away." The crowd cheered and held candles throughout the set.

Wild Type, led by NIA investigator Pat "Power Play" Morin and including several scientists from the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, opened its 15-minute set with a hard-driving and popular Meredith Brooks song bearing a title that can't be printed in a federal newsletter. The band was tight, and Ellie "Diva" Carson-Walter, a postdoctoral research fellow, was impressive on lead vocals. While the judges made their final decisions, all the musicians came on stage together to perform a collegial version of the Wild Type original The Grant Writing Blues.

Reviewing the performance were erstwhile rock critics (from l) Dr. Harold Varmus, Tina Suhana and Colleen Hough. Not shown are judges Marianne Henderson and Sandy Cohen.

In the end, Wild Type was declared winner. Afterward, emcee Curtis encouraged the audience to drop their inhibitions and dance on the grass as Wild Type continued to play. "At this point," he said, "seeing what you've seen the Directors do, I don't think you can embarrass yourself at all."

The spirit of camaraderie at the event was tangible. "I think the social gathering at the battle of the bands was very much appreciated," noted Dr. Philip Chen, NIH associate director for intramural affairs. Asked who he thought won the contest, he observed diplomatically, "Wild Type was louder."

"It was fun," added a postdoctoral researcher in the audience. "I think this was a great idea."

As to his band's defeat, Klausner remained positive. "I'm so excited we actually placed," he said.

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