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Vol. LXI, No. 4
February 20, 2009
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Milestones

NIEHS’s Wilson To Focus on Research Full Time
Dr. Samuel H. Wilson

Dr. Samuel H. Wilson, the long-time deputy director and recent acting director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, has decided to step away from his administrative roles at the institute. He plans to devote more time to his research as a principal investigator and chief of the NIEHS Laboratory of Structural Biology’s DNA repair and nucleic acid enzymology group—a decision made much easier, he said, because of “my complete confidence in the leadership of the incoming director, Dr. Linda Birnbaum.”

Wilson, who joined NIEHS in 1996 as deputy director, assumed his duties as acting head of NIEHS in August 2007, succeeding then director Dr. David Schwartz. In that role, he provided continuity for the institute through the transition until Birnbaum took office in January.

Wilson leaves with a legacy of supporting NIEHS programs in environmental genomics and environmental public health. During his tenure, he underscored NIEHS support for basic research in the institute’s Division of Intramural Research and strengthened ties with the NIEHS extramural community through a series of site visits to grantees throughout the United States. He increased the NIEHS commitment to its journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which recruited a new editor-in-chief during the transition, and reaffirmed institutional support for the environmental justice and community-based participatory research communities.

During the winter of 2007-2008, he and his team increased NIEHS participation in global environmental health and climate change partnerships at the national and international levels. In December 2007, he represented NIEHS leadership at the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Basic Research Program.

With his encouragement, the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training initiated the innovative Partnership for Environmental Public Health Program in 2008. Wilson joined leaders of NTP in November 2008 to celebrate the program’s 30 years of accomplishments.

When Wilson became acting director, he set the tone for his tenure by telling NIEHS employees, “Just call me Sam,” and was known within the institute for his candor and accessibility. He was a vocal advocate for quality career development opportunities for fellows and junior investigators, as well as a proactive supporter of diversity and accommodation for employees with disabilities.—

CSR Names New IRG Chiefs
Dr. Cathleen Cooper
Dr. Ross Shonat 
New IRG chiefs Dr. Cathleen Cooper and Dr. Ross Shonat 

The Center for Scientific Review recently named two new integrated review group (IRG) chiefs. Dr. Cathleen Cooper is new chief of the oncology 1 basic translational (OBT) IRG. Dr. Ross Shonat will lead the newly formed interdisciplinary, molecular sciences and training IRG.

“Dr. Cooper has demonstrated a quiet but very effective leadership in advancing many initiatives for CSR, making us very proud to have her as head of this new IRG,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa.

She has been the scientific review officer (SRO) for CSR’s transplantation, tolerance and tumor immunology IRG. Cooper has also been a referral officer in CSR’s Division of Receipt and Referral and a member of the SRO council and SRO training committee.

She has a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Southern California and did postdoctoral training in molecular immunology at Columbia University. She was an assistant professor in the department of cell biology and the cancer center, where she led a research team studying the molecular regulation of early events in hematopoietic development. NIH, the American Cancer Society and private foundations funded her work.

OBT, created in an effort to restructure how CSR reviews grants, is under the Division of Basic and Integrative Biological Sciences. It considers applications involving basic and translational investigations that encompass cancer initiation, promotion, progression and metastasis.

Shonat has been the SRO in CSR’s bioengineering sciences and technology IRG. “We are very impressed with Dr. Shonat’s imagination, thinking outside of the box and the originality of his contributions to the review process,” said Scarpa. “We look forward to seeing Dr. Shonat excel in this new role and continue to push the envelope to enhance NIH peer review.”

Shonat earned his Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania. His research focused on optical imaging of blood flow and oxygen dynamics in the eye. He completed postdoctoral training in microcirculatory physiology at the University of Arizona and conducted additional research involving neurophysiology and molecular biology using magnetic resonance imaging at Carnegie Mellon University.

Then, as a faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he taught physiology and bioengineering to undergraduate and graduate students. His research program centered on oxygen tension imaging in the diabetic eye.

Shonat’s IRG, which is in the Division of Basic and Integrative Biological Sciences, reviews crosscutting molecular science applications that focus on either application of emerging technologies to molecular problems or on training in the molecular sciences.

Credit Union Names Callis New President, CEO
Juli Anne Callis
Juli Anne Callis is the NIHFCU’s new president and chief executive officer.

The NIH Federal Credit Union has named Juli Anne Callis as its new president and chief executive officer. The appointment is effective Mar. 16. Callis follows Lindsay A. Alexander, who retired in December after nearly 20 years with NIHFCU in the same position.

Callis joins NIHFCU with over 20 years of credit union leadership experience. Most recently, and for the past 10 years, she served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Keypoint Credit Union in Santa Clara, Calif., and president of Keypoint Financial Services, which offers mortgages. Prior to these appointments, Callis was vice president of emerging technology and business development for the credit union. She launched her credit union career at Langley Federal Credit Union in Hampton, Va., where she served as vice president of marketing and public relations from 1988 to 1995. Callis holds a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco and a bachelor of science degree from East Carolina University.

Steven J. Berkowitz, chairman of the NIH FCU board, said, “We are thrilled with the selection of Juli Anne as our next CEO. Her experience, technological expertise and personal drive to excel will help us continue to provide exceptional financial products and expand convenient services for all current and future NIH members and beyond.”

Gillanders Named Branch Chief at NCI
Dr. Elizabeth Gillanders

Dr. Elizabeth Gillanders is now chief of the Host Susceptibility Factors Branch in NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

Dr. Elizabeth Gillanders has been named chief of the Host Susceptibility Factors Branch in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, NCI. The branch focuses on personal susceptibility factors in human cancer etiology such as genetic, epigenetic, immunological and hormonal biological pathways.

Gillanders has contributed to the development of several post genome-wide association study (GWAS) funding opportunities announced by the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative. She has participated in NCI and NIH committees developing data access policies for GWAS. She also recently organized a new consortium for breast cancer epidemiology studies among women of African ancestry.

Previously, Gillanders worked at the National Human Genome Research Institute, where she headed its intramural genetic epidemiology unit within the Cancer Genetics Branch. Her research focused primarily on genetic epidemiology of cancer susceptibility, with an emphasis on melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer.

She holds an M.S. in molecular genetics from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in genetic epidemiology from Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is an adjunct assistant professor at the Bloomberg School, where she teaches an introductory human genetics course.

NCI’s Wilder Retires After 30 Years at NIH
Anna Wilder
Anna Wilder bids farewell to NIH.

The Laboratory of Pathology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research recently bade a fond farewell to Anna Wilder, one of its most dedicated employees. After over three decades of continuous federal service, she retired from her position as a cytotechnologist in the cytopathology section on Jan. 2.

Wilder was born and raised in “the heart of bluegrass,” Danville, Ky., and graduated from the University of Louisville in 1975. She began her federal career at the National Naval Medical Center in 1978. In 1980, she joined the Laboratory of Pathology. The lab conducts diagnostic anatomic pathology for patients undergoing clinical trials at NCI and in the Clinical Center, for all patients being considered for entry into clinical trials and for other studies of disease pathology.

Wilder was a member of the American Society of Clinical Pathologists, the Metropolitan Washington Association of Cytology and the American Society of Cytotechnology. In addition, she was a co-author on numerous publications in her field.

“I have been fortunate to have worked with the best and brightest in their field,” Wilder said. “Being a part of an academic environment has been truly rewarding. I have literally learned something new every day during my career at NIH and have interacted with the clinical services of essentially all of the institutes. It is also pretty incredible that I have spent the last 28 years of my career in the same building and room!”

The Laboratory of Pathology and other NIH staff members and friends paid tribute to Wilder at a retirement party. Dr. Armando Filie, acting chief of cytopathology, was among the many speakers at the event. “Anna’s tenure was marked by tireless dedication to her work. She continuously provided high quality cytology services to NIH patients and helped train numerous anatomic pathology residents and cytopathology fellows,” he said.

After more than three decades of examining microscopic slides and the various colors, shapes and patterns associated with cells, Wilder now will be doing something not altogether different. She plans to get serious about her art and begin painting canvases again. Other hobbies include dance, music and downhill skiing. She may even take up bird watching.—

Biophysicist Tasaki Leaves Extraordinary Scientific Legacy
Dr. Ichiji Tasaki
Biophysicist Dr. Ichiji Tasaki was still active as an NIH scientist at the time of his death, putting in 7 days a week as scientist emeritus. He died Jan. 4 at age 98.

Revered biophysicist Dr. Ichiji Tasaki died Jan. 4 at age 98. Retired in name only, he was still active as an NIH scientist at the time of his death, putting in 7 days a week as scientist emeritus. His reserved manner and modesty belied his extraordinary achievements.

Almost 70 years earlier, the then 29-year-old scientist published the first in a series of papers establishing how nerve impulses (action potentials) jump from gap to gap in the myelin sheath that surrounds some axons. Tasaki’s discovery revealed the insulating function of myelin and explained the speed with which nerve impulses can travel along myelinated nerves. His findings are part of the basic knowledge of the nervous system that every student learns.

That work was the first in a legacy of studies that helped establish current understanding of the chemistry and physical processes underlying nerve excitability and mechanisms involved in hearing and vision. According to his colleagues, Tasaki was exceptional in his ability to apply a deep knowledge of physics and mathematics, mostly self-taught, to understand the behavior of biological systems. In addition, he brought an extraordinary level of devotion to science, typically working 7 days a week year round. His work was his greatest passion, says Dr. Peter Basser, chief of NICHD’s section on tissue biophysics and biomimetics, where Tasaki had been working for the past decade. Tasaki was “a scientist’s scientist, never afraid to question current dogma, always digging deeper to discover the truth.”

Tasaki received his M.D. degree from Keio University in Japan. He was working in Japan when he reported his initial findings on conduction of electrical impulses in vertebrate nerves, first in an article in the American Journal of Physiology in 1939. As a result of World War II, subsequent manuscripts, written in German, were sent for publication to Frankfurt, first by Siberian railroad and then by German U-boat.

He subsequently worked as a visiting scientist at research institutions in Switzerland and England, then came to the United States in 1951, where he conducted research at Washington University in St. Louis. His work there clarified key details of how the components of the inner ear function to transduce sound into neural impulses the brain can interpret.

Tasaki joined NIH in 1953 as a visiting scientist in the then National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness, moving to NIMH in 1961. From 1966 to 1984, he was chief of NIMH’s Laboratory of Neurobiology and subsequently a senior research scientist until he “retired” in 2008. Since 1998, he had been working on detail to NICHD. At the age of 97, he was believed to have been the oldest active duty scientist in the history of NIH. After retirement he was quickly named scientist emeritus and continued his scientific work until his death.

During the 1960s, Tasaki’s findings changed our understanding of the ion chemistry involved in impulse transmission by nerves. He pioneered the use of dyes that fluoresce with electrical stimulation to observe physical changes in nerve membranes as they transmit impulses. He measured the heat generated and absorbed by electrically stimulated nerves, including the heat given off by the retina in response to absorbed light.

For nearly 70 years, Tasaki’s wife, Nobuko, worked side-by-side with him as his lab assistant and partner. Together, they pioneered a method to control the internal and extracellular chemical milieu in axons. Mrs. Tasaki died in 2003 while leaving the lab.

In acknowledging Tasaki’s appointment as scientist emeritus, NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel and scientific director Dr. Richard Nakamura wrote, “Your list of achievements is so great that most of us would consider any one of your discoveries a career-making event.” In a floor statement in the U.S. House of Representatives last September, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen recognized Tasaki’s “countless contributions to scientific understanding.”

In a reflection of how Tasaki was regarded in the lab, Basser addressed him as sensei: a Japanese term reserved for a master, teacher and guide.

CRS Honors Pioneering, Innovative Staffers
CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa (second from l) recently presented the Explorer Award to (from l) Dr. Geoffery Schofield, Dr. Xiang-Ning Li and Dr. Dan Gerandasy.
CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa (second from l) recently presented the Explorer Award to (from l) Dr. Geoffery Schofield, Dr. Xiang-Ning Li and Dr. Dan Gerandasy.

The Center for Scientific Review recently presented its first “Architect Award” recognizing a staffer who not only proposed innovative ideas to advance the mission of CSR and NIH, but also helped bring them to life.

The honoree is Dr. Don Schneider, who made major contributions as “an architect to the NIH and the extramural scientific community in enhancing peer review,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa. Schneider is director of the Division of Basic and Integrative Biological Sciences and has been on the front lines of ongoing efforts to revamp peer review.

Architect Award honoree Dr. Don Schneider (l) and Scarpa
Architect Award honoree Dr. Don Schneider (l) and Scarpa
The Architect Award builds on the principles of CSR’s Explorer Award, which acknowledges staffers who generate and present innovative ideas or whose ideas result in great improvements in the work environment.

This year, there were three CSR Explorer Award honorees: Dr. Geoffrey Schofield, scientific review officer for the biophysics of neural systems study section, conceptualized the self-contained Internet assisted review (IAR) for application scoring and ranking. IAR makes it convenient and efficient for reviewers to access necessary forms and documents during review meetings via a secure local wireless network, without the issues and expense associated with obtaining Internet access for all reviewers in the room. Dr. Xiang-Ning Li developed the meeting activity management toolkit, which helps SROs and others track meeting activities and information. He is scientific review officer for the surgery, biomedical imaging and bioengineering integrated review group. Dr. Dan Gerandasy, the SRO for two study sections in the Division of Neuroscience, Development and Aging, won the honor for introducing MOSS SharePoint to facilitate communication and collaboration between the Office of the Director, SROs, program officers, extramural support staff, reviewers and external committees and working groups. NIHRecord Icon

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