skip navigation
Vol. LVIII, No. 14
July 14, 2006

previous story

next story
Hankey Retires from NCI After 38 Years

Dr. Ben Hankey, chief of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences' Cancer Statistics Branch since 1989, retired June 30 after 38 years at the National Cancer Institute as a mathematical statistician.

"Ben's leadership in the collection and analysis of high-quality cancer incidence data has been essential to the cancer research enterprise," said Dr. Robert Croyle, DCCPS director.

Hankey first came to NCI in 1968 while still a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. He was invited to work on his thesis by William Haenszel, one of a group of well-known NCI epidemiologists and biostatisticians who was teaching part-time at Pitt.

When he first came to NCI, Hankey shared an office with Nathan Mantel, another member of that group. "He thought that would give me an opportunity to learn something from him," Hankey said.

His thesis was on the association between stomach cancer and the consumption of various foods in Japanese migrants living in Hawaii. The objective was to identify foods associated with stomach risk, which might also explain changes in risk observed in the migrants as they became more westernized.

He subsequently worked under other well-known NCI biostatisticians, Sid Cutler and Max Myers, in what was then called the end results section. Hankey worked on the development of methods for analyzing survival data and began his involvement with the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results Program.

He became chief of the Cancer Statistics Branch in 1988, which included responsibility for managing the SEER program. Under his tenure, the branch's accomplishments included wider distribution and use of the SEER public use file for research purposes and a greater emphasis on quality control.

"Under Ben's leadership, the SEER program was expanded substantially to cover a quarter of the U.S. population, enhancing this extraordinary national research resource," said Dr. Brenda Edwards, associate director of the Surveillance Research Program in DCCPS.

Hankey is also interested in the creation of tools for integrating cancer surveillance data into the cancer control planning process. The first attempt at this was the creation of State Cancer Profiles, a web-based database that now resides on NCI's Cancer Control PLANET site. The State database offers rapid identification of areas at the county level where there are opportunities for cancer control.

In retirement, Hankey continues working on a project with Dr. Rocky Feuer and others that involves the development of a tool that provides more meaningful information on patient prognosis to both clinicians and patients using the SEER database.

"Ben Hankey's career at NCI has been noteworthy in its integration of statistical methodology and epidemiology," says Edwards, "culminating in the dissemination of cancer statistics that have informed both scientists and the general public about the nation's progress in cancer control."

Pioneered Social Science In Dentistry
NIDCR's Cohen Retires

The way Dr. Lois Cohen tells it, it was happenstance that she got her first postdoc position at the PHS Division of Dental Health (DDH). Some colleagues suggested her for a job there and she was quickly recruited. "I figured, why be in Washington if you can't have access to national problems, national data, and really have a chance to do something significant?"

So the newly minted Ph.D. began her career as a social science analyst in DDH. Over the years, she became a driving force for incorporating social science research into dentistry and expanding interdisciplinary oral health research around the globe. Cohen, who most recently served as director of NIDCR's Office of International Health, retired June 2 after 42 years of government service — 30 of those spent at NIDCR.

"Lois has been instrumental over the years in advancing our institute's mission domestically and internationally," said NIDCR director Dr. Lawrence Tabak. "She's a dedicated and forward-thinking researcher and science administrator whose contributions to the institute and the field of oral health research are numerous and wide-ranging. Lois has been a leader in integrating the application of the social and behavioral sciences into research for the study of oral health, which has ultimately helped improve public health both in the U.S. and around the world."

Cohen's early work concentrated on the social, behavioral, cultural and economic factors that influence oral disease development and oral health care delivery. DDH was vibrant and active, she said, but there were challenges. "It was definitely a challenge being a woman in a then male-dominated working environment," she said. "And also being a non-dentist in a dental world; there were always certain avenues that were blocked. But the very fact that the division leadership sought out social and behavioral scientists to address their issues was an over-riding incentive for me."

While at DDH, she and her colleagues devised strategies to help overcome the public's reluctance to adopt water fluoridation as well as to encourage use of topical fluorides and dental sealants in private practices. Her initial studies focused on incentives and barriers facing dentists who wanted to adopt techniques for the early detection of oral cancer. Cohen also launched two international studies in collaboration with the World Health Organization that looked at which national delivery models of care resulted in better oral health status.

In 1976, NIDR director Dr. David Scott recruited her to advise on the relationship between dental health and the social and behavioral sciences. As an advisor, and subsequently as director of the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Communications from 1983 to 1989, Cohen incorporated social and behavioral research into the strategic plans for NIDCR and pioneered major evaluations of the institute's portfolios in caries research, craniofacial anomalies, biomaterials and centers.

In 1989, she was selected to head the institute's extramural research program, which faced restricted funds and a budget that was stagnant. "It was not unlike today," she said. "We needed to figure out ways to keep our enterprise strong and to move the science forward during that time." To circumvent the budget issues, she worked with the extramural program management community to facilitate public-private partnerships that would help leverage the agency's resources. Those models for collaborative funding continue to guide other agencies as well.

As head of the Office of International Health, Cohen ensured that global health issues were addressed by global oral health research. "Take Noma, or oral gangrene," she said, discussing a condition prevalent in Africa. "Why do we study it since we have hardly any cases here? Because you have to understand what it is to be able to prevent it. And, as we all know, diseases can cross borders — they don't respect geopolitical boundaries." OIH also served as a WHO Collaborating Center for Dental and Craniofacial Research, functioning as a liaison with agencies involved in global oral health research and training both here and abroad.

Cohen has received numerous honors and awards and her alma mater, Purdue University, conferred its first honorary doctorate to a sociologist in 1989 for her work related to dental health research globally. In retirement she says she may return to ceramics as well as explore other crafts, and is looking forward to more time for reading and extra time with friends and family. In general, she says, she hopes to lead a "more balanced existence."

Although officially retired, Cohen has been asked to stay and consult for NIDCR part-time. "I'm very committed to what we do here," she says. "What we're about is so important and I love being a part of it."

Noel Accepts Another Role

Dr. Pierre Noel, chief of hematology in the Clinical Center, has accepted a detail to be acting associate director for security and emergency response (SER) in the Office of Research Services. SER responsibilities include police, fire, continuity of operations planning, homeland security issues and other security operations. Noel has been an Air Force Special Operations Command flight surgeon and an advisor on weapons of mass destruction, disaster planning and biodefense. Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he flew with an NIH team to Mississippi to set up an acute care facility as a part of the relief effort. He most recently has been appointed to lead NIH's team for the pandemic flu continuity of operations plan (see NIH Record, Mar. 10, 2006). Noel will serve in the SER role until Nov. 1 and will also help lead the effort to recruit a new, permanent SER associate director, said Colleen Barros, NIH deputy director for management.

NCI's Kakefuda Mourned

Dr. Tsuyoshi Kakefuda, 77, a cancer researcher for more than 40 years, died June 16 at his home in Potomac, Md.

He was born in Kyushu, Japan, to a family of doctors. His father was the local physician in his town and his mother was an ophthalmologist as well as one of the first few women doctors in modern Japan. His inspiration for public service and health care came from his parents because they would often exchange medical services for food for his family.

Kakefuda received his M.D. and Ph.D. at Tokyo University in the 1950's. As a young scientist and pathologist he was drawn to the emerging technologies in the United States. He decided to move his young family to Los Angeles where he began his research in cancer. His early work involved looking at how carcinogens in cigarette smoke damaged DNA. He developed techniques to image DNA by electron microscopy. After he moved to the National Cancer Institute in 1967, he captured one of the first images of DNA in the process of replicating itself.

For 34 years he worked at NCI, initially in the department of molecular carcinogenesis where he became section chief and later in the Office of International Affairs. He dedicated much of his life to promoting a productive relationship between the U.S. and Japan, becoming executive secretary of the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Cancer Research Program. He was able to enhance a mutually beneficial exchange of science as well as opportunities for Japanese scientists to train in U.S. laboratories. His Japanese colleagues have called him "the ambassador of cancer research."

Kakefuda was thankful for the opportunities provided to him and felt a strong obligation to help young scientists. He became an important liaison between the U.S. and Japanese scientists and often met with Japan's royal family, in particular with Japan's Prince Masahito Hitachi (a fellow cancer researcher in Japan) when he visited Washington.

He published two books in the last years of his life, Life Science Strategies of NIH and Tracking Down the Oncogene, and was occasionally invited to write a column for the Asahi Shinbun newspaper.

Kakefuda was also an avid golfer and initiated the NIH Japanese Golf Club in the D.C. area nearly 30 years ago. The club has since become a social venue for many Japanese expatriates and remains active.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Fujiko; a sister, Kumiko Urushiyama of Tokyo; two children, son Genichi Kakefuda of Chapel Hill, N.C., and daughter Mika Derynck of San Mateo, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

A memorial reception will be held at the end of July in the home of Fujiko Kakefuda; details of the arrangement can be obtained at Simple Tribute, (301) 545-0960.

NIAMS's Kempner Retires After Long Career

Dubbed "Kempner Fest" by the many friends in attendance, a symposium marking the retirement of Dr. Ellis S. Kempner, head of the NIAMS macromolecular biophysics section, was held Apr. 21 in the Bldg. 50 auditorium. Dr. John O'Shea, NIAMS scientific director, summed up a remarkable career in his opening remarks: "You don't have to publish with Kempner to win a Nobel prize, but it sure does help." The symposium, attended by many long-time NIH'ers, honored Kempner's many accomplishments and celebrated an outstanding 47-year government career.

Friends and colleagues who gathered to honor Dr. Ellis Kempner (third from r) included (from l) Dr. Marshall Nirenberg, Dr. Werner Schlegel, Dr. Sidney Fleischer, Dr. A. Catherine Ross, Dr. Shelagh Ferguson-Miller, Dr. Donald Caspar and Dr. Henry Metzger.

Kempner earned his Ph.D. in biophysics from Yale in 1958, and shortly thereafter joined the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. During his first 10 years in research at NIH, he studied "strange bugs": bacteria that grow in unusual environments such as high temperature, high salinity or high acidity. The next decade was devoted to the study of Euglena gracilis, a photosynthetic protozoan. Kempner showed that in these living cells, all macromolecules were bound to larger structures; there were no freely floating macromolecules. Since then, he has spent nearly 30 years in his area of expertise: "radiation inactivation," wherein the function-structure relationship of proteins and other biological macromolecules is determined by radiation target analysis.

Kempner has collaborated over the years with three Nobel prize winners: Dr. Marshall Nirenberg, Dr. Martin Rodbell and Dr. Stanley Prusiner.

Beyond the realm of office and laboratory, Kempner was active in the Biophysical Society for 50 years and was a member of the Civil Service Board of Examiners in Physics for 5 years. He served on two NIH Equal Employment Opportunity committees, was awarded an NIH Director's Award in 1997 and has published over 150 articles.

Kempner, who plans to continue projects after taking a cruise vacation, says he could write 100 pages of "incredible moments" in his career. "It has been both wonderful and unusual." He has been constantly surrounded, he said, "by wonderful and brilliant researchers, many of whom went on to achieve greatness in science and have become lifelong friends."

back to top of page