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Vol. LVIII, No. 21
October 20, 2006

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Grantees Win 2006 Nobel Prizes

NIH grantees of long duration swept the medicine-related 2006 Nobel Prizes; two shared the prize in physiology or medicine and one won the chemistry prize outright.

The physiology/medicine prize went to Dr. Andrew Z. Fire of Stanford University School of Medicine and Dr. Craig C. Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. They were honored for their discovery of RNA interference, a mechanism for silencing genes that could lead to new disease treatments.

Dr. Roger D. Kornberg, also of Stanford School of Medicine, won the chemistry prize for his studies of how genetic information is transcribed into RNA, which is translated to make proteins, molecules essential to life. If the transcription process stops, genetic information is no longer transferred. “Illnesses like cancer, heart disease and various other kinds of inflammation are linked to disturbances in the transcription process,” said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. “Understanding this process in more detail may provide researchers with the needed tools to develop new treatments for diseases.”

Over 37 years, NIH has provided more than $24 million to support Kornberg’s research. He has been funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Cancer Institute. Kornberg’s father Arthur, also an NIH grantee, shared the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1959, making the Kornbergs one of more than half a dozen parent-child Nobel laureates.

NIGMS began supporting the work of Fire in 1987 and Mello in 1999. Over the years, NIGMS has provided nearly $8.5 million to the two scientists. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has also provided more than $3 million to support Mello’s research. The two scientists published their findings in 1998.

“[These] Nobelists used experiments with nematode worms to find a mechanism that can silence genes in humans. Many diseases develop when genes don’t work properly, so RNA interference offers a tremendous potential to create a new generation of drugs targeted to these and other conditions,” said Zerhouni.

Moshell Retires from NIAMS

Dr. Andrew Z. Fire

Dr. Alan N. Moshell, long-time chief of the Skin Diseases Branch at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, has retired. He started in his position in 1982 with the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, continuing on after that institute was split into NIAMS and NIDDK in 1986.

Researchers know him as the “go-to guy” at NIAMS, an expert in the regulations of extramural research and how to follow them. Having served at NIAMS since its formation, Moshell is known as a repository of institute history. Among his many accomplishments at NIH, he cites: being part of the research team and coauthor of the 1988 New England Journal of Medicine article that was the first proof in humans that drugs could be used to prevent cancer; organizing the NIH consensus development conference on Diagnosis and Treatment of Early Melanoma, which changed the way early melanoma is treated in the U.S. and the world; developing the original individual and institutional physician-scientist development awards (K11 and K12), the mechanism that is now being used for many Roadmap initiatives; and developing the special fellowship in epidemiology, outcomes research and clinical trials research in skin disease used to help develop a cadre of specially trained scientists in an underserved area of medicine.

Moshell considers his most significant contribution to NIAMS’s mission to be “continually keeping the skin disease research community, as well as the larger community of researchers in NIAMS’s areas, informed about the workings of the institute and the NIH as a whole.”

As well, he says, he has helped researchers determine the best way to interact with NIH and NIAMS and maximize their likelihood of success.

“I believe my most lasting effect will be that several generations of researchers realize that NIH is not a ‘black box,’ that there are people ready, willing and anxious to assist applicants who take the time to inquire and that many program directors with whom I have worked over the years bring to their job that same attitude: that our prime role is to assist the applicant to make the best use of the available NIH support.”

Moshell has served as president of the D.C. Dermatology Society and currently chairs the Federal Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. He recently received the Presidential Award from the Society for Investigative Dermatology “in honor of his contributions to advancing dermatological science, in gratitude for guidance and support of our members in funding their work and in recognition of his consummate professionalism and integrity.” He also received the NIH Director’s Award in 1990.

Moshell will continue as special volunteer clinical consultant to the Dermatology Branch, NCI. He will also become director of resident education at the department of dermatology at Washington Hospital Center.

NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz said, “Alan will be greatly missed, both by the NIAMS staff and by the researchers who depended on his expertise to further their research. We are very grateful to him for his years of service to the institute and wish him all the best in his very active retirement.

Hollander Named NIEHS Associate Director for Management

Marc Hollander

Marc Hollander was recently named executive officer at NIEHS, holding the official title of associate director for management. He is a veteran executive with a track record of successfully facilitating coordination between administrative and scientific personnel and managing scientific operations.

Before joining NIEHS, Hollander was manager of the Management and Technical Support Office at NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center. Prior to that, he served as deputy assistant secretary and chief financial officer for the science and technology directorate, Department of Homeland Security. Among his roles at DHS was his position as first center director of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, formerly part of the Department of Agriculture.

Hollander joined the Department of Energy as a budget officer in 1989, rising to a Senior Executive Service position as the first chief information officer in the National Nuclear Security Administration.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from George Mason University and a master’s degree in management from Florida Institute of Technology.

Hollander noted, “I am delighted that Rich Freed has accepted the position of deputy executive officer, providing his invaluable insight and vast operational knowledge into the NIH as well as NIEHS’s inner workings. I see Rich and me as a solid team on behalf of NIEHS and am looking forward to working together.”

NICHD Mourns Death of Luoto

NICHD’s Dr. Joanne Luoto meets with then-Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop.
NICHD’s Dr. Joanne Luoto meets with then-Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop.

Dr. Joanne Luoto, scientist administrator in NICHD’s Contraception and Reproductive Health Branch, died on June 9 from a rare form of cancer. She was 58 years old.

Her work focused on research evaluation of contraceptive methods, including oversight of spermicide contraceptive efficacy trials and studies of steroidal contraception and potential HIV risk. She also oversaw research in the evaluation of colposcopy, intrauterine devices and acquired tubal infertility, and the studies of hormones, cervical ectopy and STI (sexually transmitted infection) acquisition. She worked collaboratively with other organizations dealing with barrier contraceptives, including the FDA.

“Dr. Luoto was a good friend and colleague and a fine scientist,” said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. “Her concern for the patients affected by the results of the clinical trials she oversaw drove her to carry out the trials with rigor and all possible speed.”

Luoto received her B.A. in biology from Swarthmore College. After receiving her M.D. from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1973, she began her career at the National Cancer Institute as a program director for gynecologic oncology. She later joined the office of the assistant secretary for health, first in the Office on Smoking and Health and later as director of the Office of Refugee Health.

She joined NICHD’s Contraception and Reproductive Health Branch as a scientist administrator in 1995. In 2003, she received the NIH Director’s Award for her work establishing a network of interrelated studies of women’s HIV risk and steroidal contraceptive use in Africa.

“Joanne was a person of great integrity and loyalty, both to the NIH and the federal government,” said Dr. Bob Spirtas, former chief of the Contraception and Reproductive Health Branch. “She was deeply involved with her work and carried it out to the highest standards.” Picture of NICHD’s Dr. Joanne Luoto with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Away from work, Luoto enjoyed cooking for her friends and colleagues. She also collected jewelry and was interested in gemology. Remembers one of her closest friends, NIH coworker Lois Thomas: “Joanne was good-hearted and very down-to-earth. If she could help you with anything, she would.”

NCI’s Cho-Chung Dies

Dr. Yoon Sang Cho-Chung

Dr. Yoon Sang Cho-Chung, chief of the cellular biochemistry section in NCI’s Basic Research Laboratory, died July 8 at age 72.

She received her M.D. degree in 1958 from Seoul Women’s Medical School in Korea and her Ph.D. in 1963 at McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin, where she elucidated mechanisms of metabolic feedback regulation in rat hepatomas. As a research associate, she studied yeast genetics with H. Edwin Umbarger at Purdue University.

In 1970, Cho-Chung joined NCI as a visiting scientist; she became known for her pioneering spirit and her dedication to cancer research. Within 10 years she had established her own laboratory, the cellular biochemistry section. She was one of the first scientists who explored the field of therapeutic oligonucleotides. In 1996, she founded the NIH inter-institute therapeutic oligonucleotide interest group, which she headed until her death. In that capacity, she organized and chaired more than 90 seminars and 8 symposia, which attracted scientists from around the world.

Cho-Chung authored or coauthored more than 200 peer-reviewed research publications, of which 44 were invited editorials and reviews, as well as 31 invited seminars worldwide. Her creative approaches to cancer research produced 10 patents and six licenses and earned her the NIH Inventor Award every year since 1998. She also won the NIH Bench-to-Bedside Award, which is helping fund clinical trials of one of her anti-cancer drugs. In addition, she received a Federal Technology Transfer Award and the NCI Sustained Superior Performance Award.

In addition to her cancer research, Cho-Chung was a member of six editorial boards for scientific publications, concurrently, and was also a member of several national and international scientific advisory committees. Moreover, she was an exceptional mentor, training more than 60 postdoctoral fellows and 39 pre-doctoral and medical students.

Cho-Chung’s friends, colleagues and students recall her exceptional dedication to them: “The generosity with which she devoted her time to working with all of us will be appreciated by us for the rest of our lives,” said one. “She possessed a love of knowledge and an eternal spring of enthusiasm…She lived every day as if it were her first.”

She is survived by her husband Jay, her son David and her daughter Christina.

CIT’s Pilgrim’s Life Celebrated

Richard “Rick” Pilgrim, 51, who retired from NIH in February 2005, passed away on July 17 in Fairfax, Va., from respiratory and heart failure. His determination to live a full and productive life as a C-1 quadriplegic is what his NIH colleagues and surviving parents, Inez and Clyde Pilgrim, continue to celebrate.

Thirty-three years ago, Pilgrim was injured in a shooting incident. After completing 5 years of rehabilitation he began a successful 27-year federal career at NIH.

He worked part-time as a computer programmer at the Center for Information Technology, writing code and supporting computer applications for the Clinical Center and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He was able to work from home using voice-recognition software, which used audio spectrum sound waves to convert his speech into text. Ryan Wilvert, one of Pilgrim’s friends and coworkers, said, “Rick’s everyday determination and zeal helped him overcome all obstacles in work and in life.”

Over the course of his career, Pilgrim became a pioneer in the use of voice-recognition software. He and his colleagues enjoyed the challenge of adapting the evolving technology to fit his needs.

“It was such a blessing to be able to work with Rick,” noted his CIT supervisor and friend, Renee Edwards. “Rick Pilgrim was an exceptional and dedicated employee. His work with the CIT Division of Enterprise and Custom Applications was outstanding, but it is his attitude and perseverance that we all always celebrated.”

Pilgrim made a point of participating in CIT and NIH events. His colleagues would regularly go to his house in Fairfax to work on his computer system and would often be invited to stay and enjoy a meal with the family.

In 1987, he received the Public Health Service Outstanding Handicapped Employee Award. An advocate for the disability community, Pilgrim worked on several inter-agency committees and spoke at symposia throughout the metro area.

As he once said, “If I can do it, other disabled people can do it. They need hope. They need determination. These two ingredients combined can make us better people.”—

NIDCD Grantees Receive Tibbetts Award

NIDCD grantees Dr. Daniel S. Arick (l) and Dr. Shlomo Silman of Arisil, Inc., recently received the Tibbetts Award “in recognition of significant achievements involving technological innovation
related to the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR).

NIDCD grantees Dr. Daniel S. Arick (l) and Dr. Shlomo Silman of Arisil, Inc., recently received the Tibbetts Award “in recognition of significant achievements involving technological innovation related to the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR).” Arisil received funding through NIDCD’s SBIR program for the development and testing of the EarPopper, a non-surgical, non-drug treatment of hearing loss caused by otitis media with effusion and eustachian tube dysfunction. The EarPopper is patented and has FDA approval as a medical device available through prescription. Arick and Silman (holding the EarPopper) are shown here with Tiana, one of the children who participated in a clinical trial of the device.

Coulombe Joins NICHD

Dr. James Coulombe

Dr. James Coulombe recently joined NICHD as a program director responsible for grants in the areas of developmental genetics and developmental immunology. Before joining NICHD he had been a staff scientist at NINDS and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. His research involved the study of how the cells that are targets of neurons influence the type of neurotransmitter ultimately produced by that neuron. Coulombe earned a B.A. in biology from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of California, Irvine.

Stokes Honored by Veterinary Organization

Dr. William Stokes

Dr. William Stokes recently received the Charles River Prize for distinguished contributions to the field of laboratory animal medicine and science from the American Veterinary Medical Association. He was recognized for establishing procedures to validate and gain regulatory acceptance of new safety testing methods to reduce, refine and replace animal use. Stokes is a doctor of veterinary medicine and currently serves as director of the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, headquartered at NIEHS. A captain in the Commissioned Corps, he is a 20-year veteran of NIH and chief veterinary officer for the Public Health Service.

Diversity-Enhancing Program Marks Anniversary

When mostly minority college students being groomed for careers in mental health-related research convene in Washington, D.C., early next month, an NIMH program to promote diversity in the scientific workforce will mark a quarter century of progress. The students will share their latest research findings and gain inspiration from working scientists who were also once nurtured by the Career Opportunities in Research (COR) program, one of only two such NIH grant programs supporting undergraduate education. The 25th annual COR Education and Training Colloquium will be held Nov. 1-5 at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel.

The meeting will bring together about 160 COR scholars—junior and senior honors students from 19 colleges and universities with predominantly racial and ethnic minority students—their faculty mentors, role model alumni, recruiters from graduate schools and NIMH program staff. Students will showcase their research projects in poster and oral presentations and interact with COR alumni and leaders in the field.

Among highlights will be talks by alumni who have become independent investigators. The keynote address, “Why I Love My Job in Research,” will be given by Dr. Jacqueline Nassy Brown of the department of anthropology at Hunter College.

“You get to meet students from all over the country who are in the same situation as you are and share your interests, such as minority research,” said Hector Lopez, a senior in the psychology COR program at the University of Texas at El Paso. He will be presenting a poster on a study of “Club Drug Use in Hispanic College Students,” which he said found 17-25 percent prevalence rates. The El Paso native hopes to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology and says his COR affiliation has helped him connect with professors at prospective graduate programs.

To increase representation of racial and ethnic minorities, the NIMH COR program provides support for honors juniors and seniors interested in pursuing careers in the mental health-related sciences. Applicants are evaluated on their individual merits by the host institution, mostly historically black and Hispanic- serving colleges and universities. COR trainees must complete approximately 20 semester hours beyond the requirement for the bachelor’s degree. Working in the research laboratory of their mentor, they assist with experiments and prepare and present abstracts, poster sessions and scientific talks. They are also expected to attend national scientific meetings, submit scientific papers for publication and participate in a summer research project at a university other than their parent institution. These experiences prepare the students for success in gaining admission to—and completing—doctoral graduate programs. After receiving their bachelors degrees, 75-80 percent of COR trainees go directly to graduate school.—

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