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Vol. LX, No. 23
November 14, 2008
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Intramural Science Marks 21st Confab
Research Festival Weighs In on Widening Health Crisis of Obesity

On the front page...

The NIH Research Festival marked 21 years on Oct. 14 and its custodial parent made one thing perfectly clear at the opening plenary session: “This is our 21st Research Festival, so perhaps on the occasion of our 21st birthday we should recognize that risky behavior is expected,” quipped Dr. Michael Gottesman, who as NIH deputy director for intramural research has overseen 15 of the 21 gatherings.

“However, we expect 21-year-olds to know better. That pretty much accounts for the intramural program in a nutshell.”

Continued...


  One of several hundred posters presented in the Natcher Center at NIH Research Festival 2008  
  One of several hundred posters presented in the Natcher Center at NIH Research Festival 2008  

Recalling the event’s simple concept, he said, “The idea behind the Research Festival was to provide a more formal way for us all to get together, talk to each other about what we do, generate new ideas and showcase the really amazing talent and the very cutting-edge research that goes on in the intramural research program.”

Gottesman also reflected on major changes in NIH intramural research since the first year the festival was held in the 1980s. “We’ve more and more had what we call trans-NIH initiatives—efforts scientifically to bring together people from across NIH in different institutes to work on subjects that would be hard to take on without the interaction of many individuals,” he said. As examples, he cited the Center for Human Immunology, which will have a physical presence in a couple of years; systems biology endeavors using high-throughput RNAi screening that will be housed at the NIH Chemical Genomics Center; numerous imaging activities as well as multi-institute projects studying adult stem cells in clinical research and the topic of this year’s opening festival session, obesity.

NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman NCI scientific director for clinical research Dr. Lee Helman Dr. Clifton Bogardus of NIDDK

Above (from l): NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, NCI scientific director for clinical research Dr. Lee Helman, who cochaired the 2008 festival, and Dr. Clifton Bogardus of NIDDK, who chaired the opening plenary session
Below: Dr. Onyinyechi Irrechukwu, a postdoctoral fellow in the nuclear magnetic resonance section of NIA’s Laboratory of Clinical Investigation, chats about her poster with NCI fellow Dr. Michael Pollack.

Dr. Onyinyechi Irrechukwu, a postdoctoral fellow in the nuclear magnetic resonance section of NIA’s Laboratory of Clinical Investigation, chats about her poster with NCI fellow Dr. Michael Pollack.

“These kinds of activities are beautifully reflected in the many symposia and poster sessions,” he said. “Keep in mind when you’re attending these events in the next few days that these are opportunities to learn about what others across NIH are doing and to join in these activities.”

In addition to the science collaborations, he noted, there has been “much more emphasis on mentoring and training” in recent years. “We’ve always had a very important training responsibility, but I think the quality of mentoring and training has increased.” The job fair for postdocs was added to festival events in 1996, along with the lunchtime picnic.

“If you look at today’s program and at all of the events throughout the rest of the week, I think you’ll be convinced there’s some really good stuff going on at NIH,” Gottesman concluded.

Dr. Thomas Cech, president, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management, OMB Dr. Ellen Sigal, chair and founder, Friends of Cancer Research
Other Research Festival plenary session presenters included (from l) NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow, who noted brain circuit similarities among compulsive eaters and drug abusers; NIDDK’s Dr. Monica Skarulis, who discussed treatment options for obesity; and Dr. Jack Yanovski of NICHD, who gave an overview of the disorder in children.
Dr. Francis Collins (l) and Zerhouni
Above, Dr. Marek Korzeniowski (l), a visiting fellow in Dr. Tamas Balla’s lab in the NICHD section of molecular signal transduction, responds to a question about his poster. Below, presenters and attendees congregate in the Natcher lobby, one of several venues where nearly 1,000 NIH scientists and staff participated in this year’s Research Festival. The event included about 650 posters, 18 symposia, a plenary session, an awards ceremony for fellows, a career fair for postdocs, a scientific exhibit tent show and a food & music fair. According to organizers, more than 3,000 people attended.

Steering the session to one of the world’s fastest growing health problems, NCI scientific director for clinical research Dr. Lee Helman, who cochaired the 2008 festival with NIDDK acting scientific director Dr. Ira Levine, said, “There’s probably no more important issue facing the health of this country and many developed nations than obesity. The incidence has doubled over the last 20 years. This is a scientific issue, but also a societal issue. [As a direct result of obesity] one out of every three children today is expected to develop type-2 diabetes— that’s a staggering number. Given the effect of diabetes on many other organ systems, I think it goes without saying that this has become a significant public health issue.”

Dr. Clifton Bogardus of NIDDK further stressed that obesity is “not just some sort of cosmetic crisis.” He put the problem in perspective with a slide showing that diseases related to obesity range from head to foot, including stroke, heart disease and some cancers. Bogardus also offered an overview of NIH studies dating back to 1965 on Pima Indians, who have the world’s highest reported prevalence of type-2 diabetes.

Other presenters included Dr. Jack Yanovski of NICHD, who described consequences and causes of pediatric obesity, and NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow, who looked at memory circuits and found several similarities between the brain wiring of drug abusers and people who compulsively overeat.

The Directors rock band features (from l) NHLBI’s Dr. John Tisdale on bass, NIAMS’s Katz on guitar and vocals, Collins on guitar/vocals, OD’s John Burklow on guitar/vocals, and NIAMS’s Dr. John O’Shea on guitar. Not visible are keyboard player Dr. Tracey Rouault of NICHD and Dr. Steven Libutti of NCI on drums.
Dr. Martha Lubet, a technology transfer specialist in the Technology Transfer Center, NCI, explains her work to a passerby.

NIDDK’s Dr. Monica Skarulis concluded the session, giving insights into some of the latest treatments in the struggle to “close the energy gap” created by obesity. She talked about four categories: lifestyle modifications, dietary interventions, pharmacotherapy and surgery. All have shown some degree of success in weight loss, alone or in combination.

The challenge however, Skarulis concluded, is to develop “a personalized strategy to maintain balance [between food intake and energy expenditure], especially given the fact that we live in the land of plenty. As we approach the next decade of this new century I think we’re going to have even more tools that will empower physicians and patients to address the root causes of all of the excess morbidity that comes with living in this land of plenty.”

To watch the entire plenary session via your desktop, go to http://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp. NIHRecord Icon

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