Nearly a year ago, immunologist Dr. Seth Pincus fled Children's
Hospital in New Orleans in the wake, literally, of Hurricane Katrina.
He had stayed with patients in the uptown hospital throughout
the August 2005 hurricane. In the chaos — and loss of power and other
services that followed — he helped get patients moved to safe facilities
elsewhere. As the hospital's research director, he agonized over
giving pentobarbital to laboratory rats and mice (so they would
not die of dehydration and starvation), as well as leaving behind
hundreds of fragile blood and tissue samples. He used liquid nitrogen
to freeze what he could, then left and set up temporary base in
Returning to Children's as soon as possible to see what could
be retrieved, he found the cardboard sample holders thick with
mold — so much that 3 weeks of steady work were required to get rid
of it. But a lot of the samples he had frozen with liquid nitrogen
were still fine.
|Katrina-survivor and NIH grantee Dr. Seth Pincus says he learned the
hard way about protecting research samples, animals and subjects from disaster.
When CSR Scientific Review Administrator Mary Clare Walker called
to tell him that, if he was too burdened, he shouldn't feel he
needed to carry out his commitment to chair a November meeting
of the HIV/AIDS vaccine study section, he says he nearly cried. "Please," he
said to her, "I want to do it. It's the only semblance of normality
I have left!"
He did chair the November meeting. And the March and July ones.
He also did a full load of reviews of re-submissions. CSR director
Dr. Toni Scarpa praised his dedication: "As a chair with review
experience that spans a decade, Dr. Pincus understands the delicate
and vital dynamics of peer review in his study section," he said. "Grant
applicants benefit from this kind of continuity and we are very
grateful he served despite the overwhelming situation. It is heartening
to note that Dr. Pincus is one of many NIH heroes who give so much
to ensure the vitality of NIH peer reviews."
Pincus also managed, in his spare time, to help NIH understand
the unique needs of its researchers in New Orleans. He estimated
that Children's suffered $50 million in losses, but added that
it was "pretty lucky to be on high ground, whereas Tulane and LSU
were in the flood zone. We gave space to 80 investigators. We gave
them a place to come in and start to get back to work."
About 280 principal investigators in New Orleans had support from
NIH grants when Katrina struck. "Some of the best have taken their
work and their grants elsewhere," Pincus said. "Drug company-financed
clinical trials were often so disrupted that they have been abandoned."
Initially, NIH helped out by extending the deadlines for research
applications for those hit by Katrina, and by offering aid from
some of the institutes. NIH also used administrative supplements
to help out, on a case-by-case basis.
In July, after receiving assessments of what research remained
or was being revived, NIH offered a simplified method by which
its grantees still working in New Orleans could obtain 1-year extensions
of their grants, with the possibility of an additional $50,000
supplement to cover unexpected storm-related costs.
With that aid, Pincus said, he's looking forward to forgetting
about Katrina and carrying out "a normal program of research" once
Forgetting Katrina? Well, not quite. Pincus learned the hard way
about protecting research samples, animals and subjects from disaster,
and he's gotten fairly evangelical about it. He has devised a number
of disaster preparation suggestions that were published in The
Scientist last December. To them he would add an opportunistic
footnote. Remember all that mold he was fighting? Now he and other
researchers in New Orleans are planning a long-range study of the
impact of mold on human health. He is telling potential funding
groups that New Orleans — where the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention reported that 46 percent of the homes inspected showed
mold growth — presents a major opportunity for such a study.
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