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Vol. LVII, No. 16
August 12, 2005

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'Transforming NIH'
In 10th Annual Diggs Lecture, Maddox Calls for Concerted Change

On the front page...

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 Sciences."


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
Dr. Yvonne Maddox (l) and Dr. Duane Alexander greet Claudette Diggs, wife of the late Dr. 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.

"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 at NIH.

"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.

Smith (l) presents the Friend of BSA Award to Dr. Beverly Alston-Smith of NIAID.  
"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."

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 at NIH?"

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.

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