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NIH's past, present and future were significantly
blended on July 21 as NICHD deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox challenged
the agency to apply its historic intellect, consummate expertise
and collective energies toward "Transforming NIH in an Age of Translational
Introduced affectionately by NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander
as "an excellent student in both high school and college, but also
a top cheerleader," Maddox delivered the 10th annual John W. Diggs
Lecture as part-historian, part-conscience and part-preacher (as
Alexander jokingly observed after her talk). Sponsored by the NIH
Black Scientists Association, her lecture addressed the changing
nature of science in the 21st century and what NIH must do to maintain
its premier status and reinvigorate its nearly 120-year-old mission.
|Dr. Yvonne Maddox (l) and Dr. Duane Alexander
greet Claudette Diggs, wife of the late Dr. John W. Diggs.
"We cannot talk about change without giving a little thought to
the past," she began. Recalling turning points in NIH history — from
its original "bedside-to-bench" purpose in preventing infectious
disease epidemics to its map of the human genome — she suggested
that the agency cannot afford to wait for a "slow metamorphosis,
in the medical sense" but must launch "a concerted effort to transform
ourselves in a time in which change is necessary."
Dr. John McGowan, director of NIAID's Division of Extramural Activities,
recalled one of NIH's most beloved change agents, offering a personal
tribute to NIH's former deputy director of extramural science Diggs
who died in 1995. "We value greatly his counsel," McGowan said,
noting that it was Diggs who encouraged him to pursue his current
post. "His legacy lives on in individuals like me."
Maddox also recalled some personal experiences with the event's
honoree: "John Diggs was indeed a man of high integrity, someone
you knew you could count on. And if you were a new administrator,
as I was, coming into NIH nearly 20 years ago, you really needed
someone like Dr. Diggs to give you advice and mentoring. I think
John was known to many of us as our unofficial mentor. He had a
lot on his plate and he certainly could not be official mentor
to all of us, but he paid attention to us. Even if I didn't see
him for a couple of months, I always got the sense that he was
looking out for me."
|At the annual lecture are (from l) Claudette
Diggs, keynote speaker Dr. Yvonne Maddox, Black Scientists
Association vice president Dr. Sharon Jackson of NIAID and
president Dr. Janine Smith of NEI.
It was in 1931, Maddox told the audience, that Sen. Joseph Ransdell
of Louisiana articulated the nation's hope for what would become
the country's premier medical investment. He wrote, "The definite
objective of the National Institute of Health is to promote the
health of beings, to improve their earning capacity, to reduce
their living expenses, to increase their happiness, and prolong
their lives. It serves unselfish interests, and its beneficent
results will enter every home on Earth.A vast field lies before
the National Institute of Health."
That early mission statement has been refined over the years,
Maddox said, but its core message of inclusion still resonates. "It's
amazing when photos of NIH's campus in the early days are compared
to today's pictures," she noted, showing images depicting the "vast" acreage
of the agency as it filled with labs and offices over the years. "We
have seen a metamorphosis in terms of structure, in terms of the
sciences, in terms of facilities and space — but maybe not
in terms of the people."
More than 1,250 scientists at NIH hold tenured or tenure-track
posts here, she said. Of that number, 14 are African American.
"We have been able to solve problems here at NIH when we wanted
to," she said. "There's something that I call the 'NIH Principle.' It
says, 'When an important area of research has too few researchers,
then NIH takes action.'" She recalled efforts about a generation
ago to attract more investigators to HIV/AIDS research and more
recently to stem cell research. Several years ago, too, intramural
NIH found that the number of female scientists was deemed too low.
In each situation, Maddox said, NIH rallied around the recruitment/retention
dilemma and attacked it on several fronts — position papers,
grants funding, strategic hiring and other mechanisms.
|Maddox called on NIH to launch “a concerted
effort” to recruit and retain more black scientists here.
||NIAID’s Dr. John McGowan joined
Maddox in paying tribute to Diggs’ memory and legacy
"Why can't we make those types of decisions in times like these,
in a period of translational sciences when we are transforming
health care?" she asked. "These are good times for medical research.
These should be good times for all of us."
Maddox also discussed recent NIH research breakthroughs in cancer
(Gleevec, the new targeted anti-cancer drug), stroke (the drug
tPA can limit brain damage if administered promptly) and HIV/AIDS
(the drug nevirapine significantly reduces mother-to-child transmissions).
Those ailments along with diabetes, asthma, obesity and infant
mortality present challenges for now, she said, noting that all
of the disorders also disproportionately affect people of color
in the U.S.
"There is no reason why this campus — which has the most unique intramural program in
the U.S., if not the world — can't have a better, stronger focus in reducing health disparities," she
said. "This campus, the manpower, the brilliance, the expertise that is here should allow us
to come closer to solving these problems."
|Smith (l) presents the Friend of BSA Award
to Dr. Beverly Alston-Smith of NIAID.
Maddox said the NIH Roadmap offers exciting possibilities for
expanding diversity among those who conduct research.
"We've learned in translational sciences that we need a lot of
specialists — radiologists, obstetrician/gynecologists, pediatric
endocrinologists — but we also need for them to be of different
genders and different colors," she said.
The team-science approach will allow NIH to bring more minorities
as well as sensitive and culturally competent investigators to
the field of health disparities research, she pointed out. In bringing
the complexities of basic and clinical research together, she said "there
is no reason why we cannot translate research to the people — people
of all colors, all ethnicities and all economic circumstances."
In an era of developing "targeted therapies" and "individualized
medicine," Maddox said the current enthusiasm for biomedical research
emanates — as it historically has — from NIH. "We have
the brainpower here. We can look at the metabolomics, the proteomics,
the bioinformatics and nanotechnology. NIH has talked about [these
and other advances] in conferences all over the country in the
last 4 or 5 months: We say we want to create homes for clinical
translational sciences in academic institutions. Why not start
Maddox said community involvement in science helps establish the
research agenda by determining people's needs. Drawing diverse
input into the process also enhances public trust, she stressed.
|Dr. Michele Evans of NIA presents
Philip J. Browning Scientific Pioneer Awards to Dr. William
Coleman of NIDDK and Dr. Lauren Wood of NCI.
"NIH has always accomplished the things that it has put its collective mind behind," she concluded. "We
worked very hard to get more women in our intramural program and we've been very successful.
I'm asking all of you who have an opportunity to make changes to devote the same kind of effort
to get more black scientists into NIH.Diversity is a critical resource for the future direction
of medical research."
The association's annual awards were also presented during the
program: the 2005 Friend of BSA Award was given to Dr. Beverly
Alston-Smith of NIAID by BSA president Dr. Janine Smith, NEI deputy
clinical director. After a tribute to the award's namesake by Dr.
Michele Evans, NIA deputy scientific director, the Philip J. Browning
Scientific Pioneer Awards were presented to Dr. Lauren Wood of
NCI and Dr. William Coleman of NIDDK. Dr. Roland Owens, NIDDK senior
investigator, announced the high school graduate recipients of
the Cheryl Torrance Campbell Scholarships.