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Vol. LVIII, No. 2
January 27, 2006
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NIGMS's Cassatt Hits the Trails After 27 Years

For the last 27 years, Dr. Jim Cassatt commuted from Falls Church to NIH — sometimes traveling the roundtrip of 38 miles on his bike. On Jan. 4, he took out the map to see where else he'd like to go. The day before, Cassatt retired from NIGMS as director of the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB).

"Now I'll have time to really travel," he joked, adding that he plans to pack up his bike and hit the trails here and abroad. But that's only after he finishes reading the book, How To Enjoy Not Working.

Cassatt, 62, spent most of his career at NIH. After conducting research on the hemoglobin protein and winning awards for his teaching at Georgetown University School of Medicine, he switched gears. He joined what is now the Center for Scientific Review in 1978 as scientific review administrator of the molecular and cellular biophysics study section.

Four years later, Cassatt moved to NIGMS to administer grants related to genetics and then to molecular structure and biophysics. He directed CBB, as well as the program that preceded it, since 1988. The division currently has a budget of $646 million and supports more than 1,700 research and training grants.

 
  Jim Cassatt in 2004 at the finish line of an 8-day, 400-mile bike ride across New York.

Many of Cassatt's colleagues see him as a trendsetter — and rightfully so. Aside from sporting all the coolest cycling gear, he started many programs that the institute now considers part of its legacy. He played an important role in creating both the $600 million, 10-year Protein Structure Initiative and the NIGMS Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, serving as the center's initial (acting) director for 2 years.

As project officer for the NIH-sponsored DNA sequence database GenBank for 7 years beginning in 1985, he oversaw its development into a model database used by scientists worldwide. In 1992, he engineered its transfer to NCBI, where the database now resides.

Recognizing the need for scientists trained in areas of both biology and the physical sciences, Cassatt developed a program with the National Science Foundation to encourage the application of mathematical tools and approaches to the study of biology.

But Cassatt's accomplishments at NIH reach beyond the purely programmatic. Many colleagues recognized him for his people skills, namely offering advice and solving problems.

"My interactions with Jim predate my coming here," said Dr. Jeremy Berg, who was an NIGMS grantee before he became the institute's director. "My research team had a grant in CBB, and we met with Jim for guidance. He came across as very fair-minded, clear and judicious. My first reactions were right."

Dr. Catherine Lewis, chief of the biophysics branch in CBB, said, "You may have thought there was no solution, but Jim always had a clever way that was reasonable and would work."

Cassatt's talent at solving problems stemmed partly from his long history at NIH and an extensive knowledge of the policies and culture of the organization. But it also stemmed from his personality. "Jim has a gift of taking the tension out of a situation," added Dr. Michael Rogers, director of the NIGMS Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry and a colleague of Cassatt's for nearly two decades. "And when he finishes, he'll ask you about your weekend."

He might also extend an offer to join him on a bike ride — a favorite activity that Cassatt actually picked up from another NIGMS colleague. He and some of his coworkers met for casual rides along the 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Virginia, which ultimately turned into training routes for 100-mile tours. Cassatt usually brought along Twinkies and Coca-Cola, energizing treats he craved during long rides.

When Cassatt wasn't pedaling, he might have been snapping pictures, another hobby shared by many of his NIGMS colleagues. "In our spare time, we talked a lot about photography," said Dr. John Norvell, director of the PSI and one of Cassatt's longtime friends. "We compared notes on camera equipment, and Jim always sent around messages on the newest lenses or printers." Cassatt also shared the final products, often taping his favorite family or vacation photos outside his office door.

As Cassatt started to think about his future beyond NIGMS, he said, "There are a lot of things I'll miss — helping people solve their problems, friendly chats in the hall, the satisfaction I felt when training fellows got their first faculty jobs and then their first grants."

While Cassatt doubted he'd leave any lasting impression on NIGMS, Berg differed: "With his leadership, creativity and passion, Jim has influenced both the direction and spirit of this institute. To his credit, CBB is in great shape as it moves forward."

NICHD Budget Officer Fried Dies After Long Battle with Cancer

 
Art Fried offers directions to runners from the steps of Bldg. 1 at the footrace that kicked off the 1988 Combined Federal Campaign. This was but one of his many volunteer roles as campus citizen.  

Art Fried, the longtime budget officer for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, died at home on Dec. 27 after a long battle with leukemia. An outgoing, affable man who had friends across the campus, he was as much NIH model citizen as budget official. Best known for many years as the cheerful force behind Combined Federal Campaign kickoffs, Health's Angels running events and blood donation campaigns, Fried said his "good guy" role arose spontaneously: "I just couldn't say no to anyone," he chuckled during an interview shortly before his death.

A native of the Bronx who lived "close enough to Yankee Stadium that we could walk there on [baseball season] opening day," Fried attended public high school in New Rochelle and graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in accounting. For the rest of his life, a Bronx heritage or affiliation with the U of R made anyone an instant friend.

Fried caught on with a Big 8 accounting firm right out of college — Arthur Young (later Ernst & Young). Feeling eminently draftable for service in Vietnam in the mid-1960's, he enlisted in the Coast Guard, with whom he made a long career as a reservist, rising to the rank of commander. During his 4-year stint on active duty in Miami, Fried earned an M.B.A. from the University of Miami. "I did a lot of work with reservists who had careers in the federal government," he recalled. "They got me involved in the Management Intern Program at NIH."

Fried arrived on campus in 1970 for a year as an MI, rotating through four 3-month assignments that acquainted him with a then-small NIH. "The MI program got you around NIH pretty well in those days," he recalled. "It was a good start to an NIH career." Following the internship, he worked briefly as a budget analyst at what was then the National Heart Institute, and later worked for the now-defunct Bureau of Health Manpower Education, which was a part of NIH. "Then a good opportunity arose at Child Health," he remembered. "The people there were just terrific, the work itself was great. Normally, most people wouldn't stay in a job that long. But I did it." Fried became NICHD budget officer early in 1977, which was the position from which he would have retired on Jan. 2, ending a federal career of some 40 years.

"Art Fried was thoroughly committed to the NIH, and to everything it represents," said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. "He was always jovial and positive and found creative solutions to difficult and demanding problems. He was more than willing to work the difficult and irregular schedule required of budget officers, doing whatever needed to be done, without a complaint."

Even though his many extracurricular activities on campus, especially his ubiquity as a noon-hour runner in the greater NIH neighborhood, earned him a wide acquaintance, Fried got to know this agency at a deeper level than most when he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1994. Ironically, it was his regular blood donation at the NIH Blood Bank that tipped him off to his illness. He kept the diagnosis private for years, but in 1997 spoke publicly about it in the NIH Record, crediting NIH doctors with saving his life via cutting-edge chemotherapy.

For the past 8 years, Fried struggled with good days and bad as the cancer alternately went into remission then recurred. "I've been on a very gradual downward slope for a pretty long time," he said. Reminded that he was often the first guy out of the Bldg. 31 locker room to go jogging on a 95-degree day, sometimes only weeks after being discharged from the Clinical Center, Fried said, "I just wanted to be an inspiration to all of you."

Since he began receiving hospice care in late November, Fried received wave after wave of friendly visitors and callers with his signature dry wit and positive attitude. Commenting on the frequent visits from colleagues on the second floor of Bldg. 31's A wing, he noted, "People have been un-be-lievable. The amount of assistance we've had, the friendship and support, would take a NASA-size measurement to figure out how many, many things have been bestowed on me the last couple months. I can't begin to express the number of people who have shown support — it's been a love-fest, and I'm really grateful for the outpouring."

In addition to his paid and unpaid NIH work, Fried volunteered for more than 20 years as a financial consultant to Threshold Services, an organization involved in housing and day programs for chronically mentally ill adults in Montgomery County. "I managed to make it to the last board meeting," he said, noting that he was the longest-serving volunteer for the organization.

Fried said his proudest professional accomplishment at NIH was the people he trained. "They include two people who have become budget officers themselves — Robyn Strachan at NIAMS and Donna Casady, who worked for 14 years for me and is now at NIA."

He used to boast that he hadn't spent an hour of annual leave within 200 miles of NIH in years; a family retreat at Old Saybrook, Conn., was a favorite destination, as were the many world-wide ski trips he enjoyed with the NIH Ski Club. A trip to Boston last fall for his son Matt's wedding was his most recent excursion.

Pausing to reflect on life, he said, "I got to see and experience a lot. I survived long enough to see both of my kids get married and to get to know two grandchildren. I know there is much more that I won't get to see, but I've been very lucky."

Fried was buried on Jan. 3 at Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife Judy, his daughter, Carrie Mumford, and a son, Matt Fried, and by two grandchildren.

Colleagues Mourn SIDS Research Pioneer Hunter

Jehu Callis Hunter, an NIH scientist and administrator who studied tumor biology and helped establish NICHD programs in maternal and child health, died Dec. 7 at age 83.

"Jehu Hunter was an exceptional scientist who was instrumental in establishing many of the NICHD's research programs," said institute director Dr. Duane Alexander. "He was revered by his colleagues, for whom he always had time, no matter how busy he was."

Before retiring from NICHD in 1979, Hunter served as assistant director of program development in the institute's Center for Research for Mothers and Children. In that capacity he had primary responsibility for developing a national network of centers to research diseases and disorders of pregnancy, infancy and childhood. Working with then-NICHD colleague Dr. Eileen Hasselmeyer, Hunter also helped develop a research network to investigate the causes of sudden infant death syndrome.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1922, Hunter graduated from the ROTC program at Howard University in 1943. He obtained a B.S. in zoology, graduating cum laude. During World War II, he served as a communications officer in the famed all African-American unit, the 92nd Infantry Division of the 5th Army — also known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Having been deactivated after the First World War, the 92nd was subsequently reactivated after pressure from the African-American press, a few members of Congress and the NAACP. Like many others in the 92nd, Hunter welcomed the opportunity to serve his country.

"It was an ego thing," Hunter told Ebony magazine in 1995. "We wanted to prove our mettle."

In 1985, Hunter and Lt. Col. Major Clark cowrote a history of the 92nd, The Buffalo Division in World War II.

Hasselmeyer recalls that, after the war, Hunter sought employment with the Pentagon. He couldn't find a position in his field, and instead worked as a guard. When Hasselmeyer remarked that it must have been difficult to take a position that made no use of his scientific training, Hunter replied, "I just decided I would be the best guard I could be."

Hunter began his NIH career in 1949, as a medical biology technician in NCI's Laboratory of Biochemistry, where he eventually was promoted to research biologist. While at NCI, he presented numerous scientific papers at research meetings, and in 1962 participated in the 8th International Conference for Cancer Control in what was then the Soviet Union.

Hunter joined NICHD in 1965 as a scientist administrator in the Reproduction and Population Research Branch. In 1969, he was appointed assistant director of planning, and by 1975 was named chief of the Office of Program Analysis. In 1976, he became assistant director for program development for NICHD's Center for Research for Mothers and Children.

One coworker, Dr. Charlotte Catz, former head of NICHD's Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch, remembers Hunter as "a very kind and helpful person. I never saw him angry, and I never knew him to put anyone off. He was one of those colleagues you truly appreciate."

Howard Hoffman, director of the NIDCD Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, said Hunter excelled at completing the numerous administrative details needed for establishing the institute's research program in SIDS. He also worked tirelessly to plan scientific workshops, draft the necessary RFPs and ensure that researchers had the materials they needed.

"He was a diplomat extraordinaire," Hoffman said, adding that Hunter could mediate between diverse groups and arrive at a solution everyone could agree on.

Hunter retired from NIH in 1978, but continued to volunteer at NICHD. He also donated time outside NIH. Hasselmeyer recalls that he volunteered to teach his grandson Tyrone's math class. Once, she said, Hunter came in to the office "all dressed up." When Hasselmeyer asked why, he responded that he had just come from teaching, and that it was extremely important that he present himself as a good role model for the young men in his class.

Hunter is survived by his wife, Edith Francis Hunter of Chapel Oaks, Md., two daughters, a son, two stepsons and 11 grandchildren.

NIDDK's Seeff Receives Award for Liver Research

Dr. Leonard B. Seeff, special expert and advisor in liver disease at NIDDK, received the 2005 Distinguished Service Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) for his longstanding contributions to liver disease research and his service to AASLD. Since joining NIDDK in 1998, Seeff has helped to coordinate and supervise multicenter clinical studies on hepatitis C, nonalcoholic hepatitis and liver transplantation. He facilitated the development of the first trans-NIH action plan for liver disease research in 2004 and has been a leader for trans-NIH initiatives on hepatocellular carcinoma and drug-induced liver disease. Prior to joining NIDDK, Seeff worked in the Veterans Administration Medical System for 30 years. While at VA, Seeff worked with his mentor, Dr. Hyman J. Zimmerman, on issues of hepatotoxicity and the use of serum enzymes; newly described virological markers such as the Australia antigen; and serological markers for hepatitis B, C and D. Seeff also served as principal investigator for a series of groundbreaking studies on viral hepatitis, which defined the incidence of viral hepatitis linked to transfused blood. His research also revealed that most of the cases of post-transfusion hepatitis identified in the cohort were neither hepatitis A nor hepatitis B, but were instead a third form of viral hepatitis later named hepatitis C. Seeff received his medical training at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and conducted his postdoctoral training at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago and the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Former Division Director Hansen Dies

Chris A. Hansen, 90, former director of the Division of Research Services at NIH, died Jan. 8 in Westport, Mass., of prostate cancer.

A Public Health Service officer, Hansen was the first director of DRS (now the Office of Research Services) and served in that post from 1956 until 1968, receiving a Meritorious Service Medal in 1964. After leaving NIH, he served 2 years as commissioner of the Environmental Control Administration. From 1970 until 1973, he was vice-president for planning and physical plant at Georgetown University.

Born in Guelph, North Dakota, in 1915, he attended the State Normal and Industrial College in Ellendale, N.D., and North Dakota State University, receiving a degree in civil engineering in 1937. He then served in various positions as an engineer for the Georgia state department of public health. In 1942, he received a master's degree in sanitary engineering from the University of North Carolina and accepted a commission in the Public Health Service, serving as district engineer for malarial control in war areas in Atlanta, Ga., which later became the Communicable Disease Center. He became assistant chief of CDC in 1952.

After retirement, Hansen was an engineering consultant in Maryland before moving to Arizona. He was active in many environmental and community organizations there, assisting with projects for the Nature Conservancy and Habitat for Humanity.

Survivors include two daughters, Elizabeth Kugler of Westport, and Kristie Hansen of Chevy Chase; a sister, Frances Casanova of Rochester, Minn., and five grandchildren. Hansen's wife Jean died on Jan. 5 in Waukesha, Wisc.; his first wife, Mary, died in 1992.

Portier Named NIEHS Associate Director

Dr. Christopher Portier, who served as associate director of the HHS National Toxicology Program, will assume new duties as associate director for risk assessment at NIEHS.

NIEHS director Dr. David Schwartz initiated the change, saying it is in keeping with the institute's renewed interest in using environmental health sciences to understand human disease and improve human health.

In his new position, Portier will oversee and coordinate risk assessment activities within NIEHS, working to ensure the availability of toxicological study results for use in national and international efforts to assess human health risks of chemicals, drugs and physical agents.

"We are very excited that Dr. Portier will lead this important effort," said Schwartz. "Dr. Portier has done an extraordinary job in overseeing the activities of the National Toxicology Program, and has developed strong relationships with scientists all over the world. This new NIEHS leadership role will allow him an opportunity to merge the fields of toxicology and environmental health sciences and prepare the world for tomorrow's health challenges."

Portier served in many prominent positions within NIEHS since his arrival as a postdoctoral student in 1981. He led the environmental systems biology group in the Laboratory of Molecular Toxicology at NIEHS. At NTP he had an important role in developing the document A National Toxicology Program for the 21st Century: A Roadmap for the Future, released in 2005 as part of the NTP 25th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C.

Portier has written more than 150 peer-reviewed publications; 50 book chapters, reports and agency publications in statistics, risk assessment and cancer research.

"Closely linking risk assessment processes to NIEHS research will improve the nation's ability to make informed public health decisions," Portier said. "We will be better poised to answer the basic questions inherent to risk assessment, including: Is it possible that this substance poses a hazard to humans? If yes, how much is dangerous? Are humans exposed to this substance and in what ways? Given human exposures and knowing how much is dangerous, what levels would be safe? These are exciting times in health research and being able to focus on bringing cutting edge research into the risk assessment arena will be a challenging new role for me at NIEHS."

Dr. Allen Dearry, who most recently served as director of the NIEHS Division of Research, Coordination, Planning and Translation, will act as interim associate director of the NTP. A national search for a permanent NTP associate director will begin in the next 3 to 6 months.

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