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Vol. LX, No. 12
June 13, 2008

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Piatigorsky Receives Helen Keller Award For Vision Research

Dr. Joram Piatigorsky

Dr. Joram Piatigorsky, chief of NEI’s Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology (LMDB), received the Helen Keller Award for Vision Research recently. The award, given each year since 1994, is presented by the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education for “significant contributions to vision science during the course of a career or for a single contribution of exceptional importance to vision science.”

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Piatigorsky. “I am particularly pleased that this award, which is usually given to individuals who have a strong clinical direction to their work, is being given this year to a strictly basic scientist with broad interests who specializes on lens and cornea. I believe it is important to recognize and continue to support basic research, especially today when the focus is increasingly on goal-oriented translational research.”

Piatigorsky has been chief of NEI’s LMDB since 1981 and has published more than 275 papers in peer-reviewed journals. He has received acclaim and many awards for his scientific achievements. Widely sought after as a speaker, he has delivered many national and international invited lectures.

“I am delighted to see Joram receive this well-deserved award for his years of innovative research,” said NEI director Dr. Paul Sieving. “As the first researcher from NEI to receive this prestigious award, Joram admirably exemplifies the creativity and originality that characterize NEI’s intramural research program. We are very proud of his achievements.”

Dr. Christopher A. Paterson, co-chair of the prize selection committee, said the decision to honor Piatigorsky was based on “his outstanding scientific contributions over the past 40 years,” that have “opened the door to a new era of molecular and genetic vision research.” Dr. Thom J. Zimmerman, the other selection committee co-chair, added, “Usually, when the committee meets there’s lots of discussion about candidates. This time the whole committee recognized immediately that the choice of Dr. Piatigorsky was an excellent one needing no debate or discussion.”

In his acceptance speech, Piatigorsky described his research as being “curiosity-driven.” He explained how he was led from his early studies using proteins called crystallins as markers for how the cells in the eye’s lens become more specialized to comparative studies on the differences between crystallins in vertebrates and invertebrates, and then to the nature of crystallins and the molecular basis for crystallin gene expression. Piatigorsky and his colleagues coined the term “gene sharing” to link multiple functions of a protein to the different expressions of its gene. In further research, he generated the “refraction hypothesis,” extending gene sharing to the cornea and conceptually linking lens and cornea by way of the multiple functions of corneal crystallins.

Citing his 2007 book, Gene Sharing and Evolution, Piatigorsky proposed that “gene sharing is a general strategy of evolution and a fundamental rule of biology that has numerous implications for medicine.”

Piatigorsky received his award at a ceremony held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He received $30,000 as the monetary component of the award.

Former NIAID Division Director Jordan Mourned

Dr. William S. Jordan

Dr. William S. Jordan, a world-renowned leader in vaccine research and former division director at NIAID, died Mar. 11 in Bethesda at age 90.

As director of the Microbiology and Infectious Diseases program at NIAID from 1976 to 1987, he advanced national and global strategies for disease prevention and promoted new and improved vaccine research. Twenty-seven years ago, Jordan established the Jordan Report, which is considered one of the most complete references on vaccine research and development.

“Bill Jordan was an extraordinary person and a great asset to NIAID,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “From the time he joined the institute as director of the Microbiology and Infectious Diseases program until well past his retirement as he continued to work on a voluntary basis, his leadership and enthusiasm affected all who knew him. He led the effort to make vaccine research and development an important part of the institute’s research agenda. Bill had the unique ability to sense what was possible and create opportunities to move the field forward. He will be sorely missed.”  

In 2004, when Jordan won the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal, the late John R. LaMontagne, then-NIAID deputy director, praised Jordan as “the creator and chief advocate for a new effort, which he dubbed the Accelerated Development of Vaccines. [Jordan] sensed that scientific progress was accelerating and that the very pace of discovery was going to yield many new ideas for vaccines of all kinds.”

Dr. Carole Heilman, who now holds the same position at NIAID that Jordan did, noted that “what Dr. Jordan was most concerned about was that the investment of federal dollars was put to good use. And he saw no better use than vaccine research.” Under Jordan’s oversight, vaccines were developed or improved for hepatitis B and influenza and the value of antiviral drugs for herpes and flu were confirmed.

According to Heilman, Jordan “was an encyclopedia of knowledge when it came to infectious diseases.” He advocated forcefully for neglected diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis and other parasitic ailments, which led to the creation of the International Collaborations in Infectious Disease Research.

Jordan was born in Fayetteville, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina and, in 1942, from Harvard Medical School.

During World War II, he served with the National Naval Medical Center and was stationed in Reykjavik, Iceland, and then with the Tropical Disease Service, where he treated Marines who came down with filariasis and malaria in the South Pacific. He also served as a medical officer at sea.

Jordan began his career in medical research in 1947 in the preventive medicine department at Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He and his colleagues began a long-term study of illness patterns in middle-class families, a study that is considered an epidemiological classic. His laboratory also contributed findings on pandemic influenza and the transmission of adenovirus.

In 1958, he moved to the University of Virginia’s medical school to chair its preventive medicine department. He also was director of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board’s commission on acute respiratory diseases. He later became dean of the University of Kentucky’s medical school and spent a year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. From this experience, he wrote Community Medicine in the United Kingdom (1978).

Jordan joined NIAID in 1976. At NIAID, he led delegations from the United States to the Soviet Union for joint meetings on interferon and influenza research. After his retirement from NIH, he was an adviser to the National Vaccine Program Office at HHS.

He was past president of the NIH Alumni Association, the American Epidemiology Society and the Society of Medical Consultants to the Armed Forces.

His wife of 51 years, Marion Anderson Jordan, died in 1998.

Survivors include two children, Marion A. Jordan of Potomac and William S. Jordan III of Akron, Ohio; a brother; and three grandchildren.

Davis Retires from Long NCI Career

Norma Davis retired after 44 years of dedicated government service on Apr. 25. Her entire career was in the National Cancer Institute, starting in the Pathological Anatomy Branch, General Laboratories and Clinics. In her final position she served as program specialist in the Office of Science Planning and Assessment.

Davis attributes her longevity with NCI to knowing she was making a valuable contribution to public health, constantly learning and always keeping in mind the many thousands of individuals who were experiencing medical challenges each day. She often advised that one should not take the gift of life for granted.  

In retirement, Davis plans to celebrate “life’s every moment” with her family, which recently expanded to include a first grandchild. She also looks forward to having more time to spend on church ministries and her musical talents.

Davis received a Presidential commendation letter for her over 40 years of government service.

NIA Scientific Review Officer Hsu Dies

Dr. Louise Hsu

Dr. Louise Hsu, 68, a scientific review officer in the NIA Office of Extramural Activities, died of a stroke on May 1. “Dr. Hsu was well respected by the neuroscience community for her contributions to science in general and to Alzheimer’s research in particular,” said Dr. Ramesh Vemuri, chief of NIA’s Scientific Review Branch.

A native of Taiwan, Hsu graduated in 1962 from National Taiwan University with a major in chemistry. A Ph.D. from the of Kansas followed in 1967. She continued her education as a postdoctoral research trainee in bio-organic chemistry at Case Western Reserve University, and, with a growing interest in neurology, she pursued a postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine from 1971 to 1972.

In 1990, following a series of university appointments including positions at the University of Texas at Houston and UCLA, Hsu accepted a post at NIA, where she focused on neuroscience and Alzheimer’s disease. For more than 10 years, she served as the scientific review officer responsible for managing the NIA neurology committee, which reviews career awards, conference awards and supplements to program projects.

“She was a friend, a guide, a mentor and an inspiration to many in her local community, at NIA, and to the broader neuroscience and aging community,” Vemuri said.

Vemuri noted that Hsu enjoyed an active social life. Her hobbies included Chinese and Western literature, opera, classical music, art and painting, world travel and ping pong. She was an enthusiastic participant in church activities and had a gift for cultivating friendships and helping people. Hsu was devoted to her extended family and is survived by her mother, 10 siblings and 22 nephews and nieces.

NHGRI’s Myung Receives Young Investigator Award

Dr. Kyungjae Myung

Dr. Kyungjae Myung, an investigator in the Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch, NHGRI, received the Bea Singer Young Investigator Award recently at the DNA Damage, Mutation and Cancer meeting of the Gordon Research Conference series, held in Ventura, Calif.

The award was established by the late researcher Beatrice A. Singer to encourage young investigators to study DNA repair, mutagenesis and cancer. It is presented every 2 years to a tenure-track investigator in the field.

“It was a total surprise,” Myung said. “I am honored that senior investigators in the DNA repair field appreciate our research. I am especially grateful for my mentors and colleagues for their help, laboratory members for performing all the experiments, and my family for their support and trust.”

Myung studies genome instability, which is a characteristic of many genetic disorders, including cancer. His conference presentation was titled, “Suppression of DNA-damage-induced Chromosomal Rearrangements by Damage Avoidance and Other Pathways.”

Dr. Vivian W. Pinn (front, third from right), director, Office of Research on Women’s Health, joins members of the NIH advisory committee on research on women’s health at a recent meeting. The group includes (front, from l) Dr. Ronald Gibbs, Dr. Bobbie Yee, Dr. PonJola Coney, executive secretary Joyce Rudick, Dr. Eugene Orringer, Dr. Luther Clark; (back row, from l) Dr. Debra Toney, Dr. Andrea Dunaif, Dr. Linda Giudice, Nancy Norton, Dr. Sally Rosen, Dr. Mary Beth O’Connell, Connie Howes, Dr. Linda Kaste and Dr. Scott Hultgren.
Dr. Vivian W. Pinn (front, third from right), director, Office of Research on Women’s Health, joins members of the NIH advisory committee on research on women’s health at a recent meeting. The group includes (front, from l) Dr. Ronald Gibbs, Dr. Bobbie Yee, Dr. PonJola Coney, executive secretary Joyce Rudick, Dr. Eugene Orringer, Dr. Luther Clark; (back row, from l) Dr. Debra Toney, Dr. Andrea Dunaif, Dr. Linda Giudice, Nancy Norton, Dr. Sally Rosen, Dr. Mary Beth O’Connell, Connie Howes, Dr. Linda Kaste and Dr. Scott Hultgren.

ORWH Advisory Committee Gains Three New Members

The NIH advisory committee on research on women’s health recently welcomed three new members: Dr. Linda C. Giudice, Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen and Dr. Debra Toney.

Giudice, the Robert B. Jaffe, M.D., endowed professor and chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, is a biochemist, gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist whose research focuses on endometrial biology and placental-uterine interactions, as well as environmental impacts on reproductive health.

Nielsen is senior associate dean, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and also president-elect of the American Medical Association. The second woman to hold AMA’s highest elected office, she helped formulate policy positions for the AMA house of delegates on such issues as depression, alcoholism among women and Alzheimer’s disease.

Toney, 10th president of the National Black Nurses Association, serves as administrator for Rainbow Medical Centers in Las Vegas. Currently responsible for oversight of six primary/urgent care centers and an outpatient diagnostic center, she is president/owner of TLC Healthcare Services, a licensed home health care agency specializing in private duty nursing and supportive care services.

NCI’s Nichols Assists Hopkins B-School

Present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony were (from l) Gilbane senior project engineer Earl Gilliam; NIAMS scientific director Dr. John O’Shea; ORF research space coordinator Cyrena Simons; and NIAMS direc-tor Dr. Stephen Katz.
Cherie Nichols will be spending 2 years at Johns Hopkins’ Montgomery County campus through the government’s IPA program.

Science and business may seem worlds apart. But Cherie Nichols, director of science planning for the National Cancer Institute, plans to bring them together through Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School “Business of Health” programs.

Nichols will be spending 2 years at Hopkins’ Montgomery County campus through the government’s IPA (interagency personnel agreement) program. Her assignment? To grow the Carey Business School’s Business of Health programs, with a particular focus on its joint master of business administration (M.B.A.)/master of science in biotechnology and M.B.A. in the life sciences degree programs and its graduate certificate in leadership and management in the life sciences.

During her assignment, Nichols will develop program curricula, secure projects and market the program within Montgomery County. Her first goal is to attract 25-30 students for the fall 2008 M.B.A. in the life sciences cohort.

Nichols said she took advantage of the opportunity to work with these programs because they are needed, and she speaks from experience.

“I’ve seen so many Ph.D.s and clinicians put into management positions without training, and these programs can address that issue,” she said. “There also are a lot of scientists who won’t make a lifelong career out of science. These programs will open other doors.”.

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