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NIDDK's Foster Retires After 18 Years

Dr. Willis R. Foster, senior staff physician in the Office of Scientific Program and Policy Analysis (OSPPA), has retired from NIDDK after 18 years of service. During his tenure, Bill, as he was known to friends and colleagues, played a quiet but essential role in NIDDK.

Dr. Willis R. Foster

Over the years, he represented NIDDK on NIH committees dedicated to disease prevention, technology assessment, technology transfer and others. He brought to this work an impressive ability to find and analyze prodigious amounts of information, according to his friend and closest colleague, NIDDK scientist emeritus Dr. Benjamin Burton. "He had a fabulous ability to retrieve things from the literature. Whenever you had a strange disease or a bacterium, it couldn't hide from Bill," Burton said. "His research and analytical skills resulted in comprehensive annual reports on disease prevention, orphan diseases and on the genetics of rare diseases, but he served NIDDK in myriad ways, penning parts of the NIH director's biennial report, editing the first Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health, and editing the first Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, conducting extensive literature searches and analyses on human obesity. He summarized and reported on NIDDK's clinical trials for development of the NIH-wide system of clinical trial reporting, and supported the trans-NIH revision of CRISP/IMPAC, now known as IMPAC II."

In 1987, Foster received the NIH Merit Award, and then, in 1995, the NIH Director's Award for his contributions to biomedical assessment and disease prevention. In 1999, he again received the NIH Director's Award for "extraordinary leadership in developing the nation's health objectives (Healthy People 2000 and 2010)." He received a Special Achievement award from NIDDK in 1996 in recognition of his innovative design and production of special projects, many of which he presented to the NIDDK council. "As a physician, Dr. Foster brought special strengths to the NIDDK because of his perspective on clinical research issues and on the medical literature," said OSPPA Director Carol Feld.

Foster did all these things in an office surrounded by pyramids of paper. "He was famous for never having thrown out a piece of paper if it had a word on it," said Burton. "But he could also find anything you asked for — within minutes." Foster was a coauthor with Burton on the most recent edition of Human Nutrition, a textbook. Over the years, he reviewed manuscripts for the Annals of Internal Medicine, and was considered within the top 10 percent of reviewers nationwide.

A native of New Orleans, Foster did undergraduate work in psychology at Louisiana State University, and graduate work in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina. He subsequently got a master's degree in biochemistry and his M.D. at LSU Medical School in 1957. A fellowship at Johns Hopkins and a stint as research associate at George Washington University brought him to the Washington area. He then worked for the Smithsonian Science Information Exchange, rising eventually to vice-president. He also was the first director of the Current Cancer Research Project Analysis Center of NCI, under an interagency transfer of funds.

Before coming to NIH in 1983, Foster was president of Advanced Concepts for Development, a nonprofit consulting firm. Appointed a special expert to the institute then known as NIADDK, he first worked in the Office of Disease Prevention and Technology Transfer with Burton, then eventually took up multiple administrative tasks full-time in the science policy office. "The sound knowledge and advice he brought to bear on a variety of analyses have benefited many in the NIDDK and throughout the NIH. His scholarship, dedication, and collegiality are well recognized, and will be greatly missed," said Feld.

After 28 Years, Giacometti Says So Long

By Don Luckett

After 28 years at NIH, Dr. Luigi Giacometti has decided to retire from the Center for Scientific Review. He began and ended a 24-year career as a scientific review administrator for the visual sciences A study section, though he was the SRA for several other study sections and special emphasis panels over the years.

His decision to retire certainly wasn't the toughest one he has made. When Giacometti was 17 years old living in Italy, he faced a big dilemma. It was 1944 and his country was seized by war. Boys in his village in Umbria were disappearing daily. Nazis were taking them to war factories in Germany, and a resurgent group of Italian fascists was forcing them into their doomed army. Giacometti knew he could be next if he didn't do something. He thus joined his older brother in the nearby mountains. There they joined a group of guerrilla fighters, which captured 20-25 Nazis soldiers and turned them over to British forces. Giacometti then became a messenger, carrying critical information between resistance and British forces. He and his family miraculously survived the war, and Giacometti was able to return to school. In 1956, he graduated from the Universitá degli Studi of Rome with a degree in biology.

Long before his 28-year NIH career, a 17-year-old Luigi Giacometti (squatting, r) and a band of his friends were caught up in World War II as members of the Italian resistance movement.

Giacometti soon came to the United States and became the chief of the perinatal laboratory at the Providence Lying-In Hospital in Rhode Island. In 1960, he became a PHS predoctoral fellow and enrolled in the graduate program at Brown University, where he earned a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in biology.

After receiving his doctorate in 1964, he spent 5 years as a scientist at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center in Beaverton. His research focused on the structure and function of skin in humans and nonhuman primates. He was noted for his studies of Langerhans cells in the skin. These cells were thought to be lifeless until he demonstrated that they were living cells. Giacometti also conducted innovative research on skin from Egyptian mummies, identifying for the first time the remnants of red blood cells in ancient tissue samples.

In 1969, he became an associate professor of the division of dermatology at the University of Oregon Medical School and scientific director of the Oregon Zoology Research Center. In addition to his skin research, he coordinated research devoted to developing animal models for human diseases and conserving wild animal species. Between 1968 and 1972, he was also the honorary Italian vice-consul in Portland, Ore.

Giacometti came to NIH in 1972 through the Grants Associates Program. From 1973 to 1977, he was director of the Extramural Corneal Disease and Cataract Program at the National Eye Institute. In 1977, he took charge of the visual sciences A study section at the Division of Research Grants, which is now CSR. Dr. Carole Jelsema, chief of the molecular, cellular and developmental neurosciences integrated review group, recently looked back on Giacometti's career. "His historical perspectives as well as his gentlemanly and scholarly ways will be sorely missed," she said. Indeed, at his last study section meeting this past July, he received numerous tributes from both reviewers and NIH staff.

Many at NIH will remember Giacometti from courses they took at the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences. For nearly 28 years, he taught courses in Italian and Italian art. He has also authored several books and articles on various topics from religion and politics to art and science. Jelsema noted that "in this era of specialization, Dr. Giacometti is truly one of the few remaining 'Renaissance men,' and CSR has been the richer for his presence and his contributions."

Retirement gives Giacometti many choices. He may travel to Italy, enjoy the company of his two daughters, or work on one of many writing projects. He has an abiding interest in history, and he may further pursue his particular interests in the history of Christianity and medicine.

NINDS' Miers Retires After 34 Years of Government Service

By Shannon E. Garnett

Mary L. Miers, chief of the NINDS Science Policy and Analysis Branch, recently retired from the federal government after 34 years of service, 31 with NIH. "I'll miss the mission, the accomplishments, and the wonderful people I have worked with. Not to mention the two-mile commute," she said.

Miers' interest in science began at an early age and continued well into her college years. In fact, upon entering Cornell University she had planned to major in zoology and to pursue a research career. However, at the suggestion of a faculty advisor she took a semester off from science and began to study government, drawing on her passion for politics. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in government from Cornell in 1966 and her master's degree in comparative government a year later from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1967, just out of college, she accepted a position as a management intern at the Internal Revenue Service. After completing the internship she became an employee development specialist with the organization.

Mary L. Miers

"I had no idea that federal agencies had work that would relate to my academic training," said Miers. "One day my husband John [then a management intern at NIH] came home and said, 'Have I got a job for you!' It was a wonderful combination of my interest in science and politics. All my work at NIH has involved science and politics, with the ratio shifting from time to time."

She left the IRS in 1970 to join NIH as a program analyst and, later, chief of the Legislative Liaison and Analysis Branch of the Division of Legislative Affairs in the Office of the Director. Miers left that post in 1979 to become a program analyst and, later, institutional liaison in the Office of Extramural Research, also in the OD, NIH. There she published the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts — a weekly summary of NIH policies and program initiatives.

In 1987 she accepted the position of chief of the Legislation and Analysis Branch (now the Science Policy and Analysis Branch), NINDS, where she was involved in the strategic planning process and preparation of the institute's budget requests.

Though Miers has retired from government service, she is continuing her career as an assistant dean for planning in the health sciences division at Columbia University in New York. In this role she will work closely with Dr. Gerald Fischbach, now vice president of health and biomedical sciences and dean of the faculty of medicine and of the faculty of health sciences at Columbia, who spearheaded the first strategic plan for NINDS.

"Although my work at NIH has never been dull, after 31 years there wasn't much I hadn't seen or done before, and no other agency has inspired the interest and passion that drew me to NIH. Columbia offers much of the same excitement of the research environment along with a complex and important mission that I feel I can really sink my teeth into," she said.

While her career is now based in New York, her home remains in Bethesda, as does her husband, John Miers, who serves as director of NIMH's Office of Diversity and Employee Advocacy Programs. Mary is maintaining a challenging balance of telecommuting and train travel between Bethesda and New York. She continues to honor her commitments at home — singing in her church choir and heading her church's flower guild, as well as her recent commitment to physical fitness, which she carries out at NIH's fitness center in Bldg. 31.

"The reason my job continued to be the best of its kind at NIH, in the face of many challenges, has been the superb staff of the Science Policy and Analysis Branch," Miers concluded. "This is an extraordinary group of talented and committed people. Individually, each of them shines, and they make up a formidable and collaborative team. I miss them already."


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