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President Hails Outstanding Young Scientists

President Clinton on Oct. 23 named 59 young researchers — including ten NIH grantees and two scientists in the intramural programs — as recipients of the fifth annual Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. The researchers received their awards Oct. 24 in a White House ceremony.

The awards, established by President Clinton in February 1996, embody the high priority the administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers ready to contribute to all sectors of the economy. Eight federal departments and agencies join together annually to nominate the most meritorious young scientists and engineers who will advance the science and technology that will be of the greatest benefit to fulfilling the agencies' missions. The scientists and engineers receive up to a 5-year research grant to further their study.

"I am delighted that two scientists here at NIH and ten grantees were given this high honor. Such talented young researchers are essential to the future success of medical research," said NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein.

The recipients associated with NIH, and their grantee institute, include: Philip Ashton-Rickardt, University of Chicago, NIAID; Michael L. Dustin, Washington University, NIAID; Leslie S. Ritter, University of Arizona at Tucson, NINR; Monica Kraft, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, NHLBI; Charles E. Murry, University of Washington, NHLBI; Henrique von Gersdorff, Oregon Health Sciences University, NIDCD and NEI; Karl Kandler, University of Pittsburgh, NIDCD and NEI; S. Barak Caine, Harvard Medical School, NIDA; Christopher S. Chen, Johns Hopkins University, NIGMS; Geoffrey A. Chang, Scripps Research Institute, NIGMS; Orna Cohen-Fix, NIDDK intramural program; and Jeffrey S. Diamond, NINDS intramural program.

Using yeast as her model organism, Cohen-Fix studies processes that ensure that chromosomes segregate properly during cell division. When the processes go wrong, cells accumulate an abnormal number of chromosomes. This situation is seen in some types of cancer. She is a cell biologist in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, NIDDK.

Diamond studies the communication between nerve cells in the brain (synaptic transmission) and the mechanisms by which those communications are changed in the process of learning and memory; he is in the synaptic physiology unit, NINDS.

NINDS Grantee Jessell Honored

NINDS grantee Dr. Thomas M. Jessell, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, recently received the 13th annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research.

Jessell was recognized for his work in defining many of the key cellular and molecular mechanisms that control the development and functional organization of the spinal cord.

His research laid the foundation for our current understanding of the biological programs that generate highly specialized and diverse cell types in the spinal cord. These cell types perform very specific functions such as processing sensations or executing motor behavior. This basic knowledge has led to a better understanding of how brain cells become specialized, and may have clinical implications for the treatment of spinal cord injury and other diseases of the central nervous system.

Jessell was first to show that each of the motor neurons and interneurons in the spinal cord achieve their distinct identities through the actions of two classes of inductive signaling molecules, members of the hedgehog and bone morphogenetic protein families. His work has increased understanding of motor neuron development and functions, and has led to many other major discoveries in the field.

He received the $50,000 award and a silver medallion at a dinner in his honor held recently in New York City.

OPM Director Honors NIH Office

NIH's Center for Cooperative Resolution recently received one of four Office of Personnel Management Director's Awards for Outstanding ADR (alternative dispute resolution) Programs. OPM Director Janice R. Lachance said, "ADR is a powerful tool for cutting the cost of litigation, enhancing employee morale and improving government decision-making."

The winning agencies "clearly demonstrate the value of using non-traditional approaches to settle workplace disputes," said OPM. "Each of these programs helps bring down the costs normally associated with the traditional, formal proceedings under the federal government's dispute resolution system and, in the end, the taxpayer is the winner."

Techniques used by ADR programs to settle workplace conflicts include conciliation, early neutral evaluation, facilitation, fact-finding, interest-based problem-solving, mediation, ombudsing and peer review.

The other agencies honored included the Department of Agriculture, Defense Logistics Agency and the U.S. Postal Service.


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