skip navigation nih record
Vol. LXI, No. 7
April 3, 2009

previous story

next story


Birnbaum Installed as NIEHS, NTP Director
Acting director Dr. Raynard Kington and NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum
NIH acting director Dr. Raynard Kington and new NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum at her recent installation ceremony

NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program formally welcomed their new leader, director Dr. Linda Birnbaum, on Mar. 13 with a morning installation ceremony and an “Afternoon of Science” featuring distinguished lecturers. Guests at the installation ceremony included NIH acting director Dr. Raynard Kington and other NIH officials, U.S. Congressman David Price, NIEHS and NTP advisory and scientific board members, friends, family and institute employees.

The highlight of the day was the formal swearing-in of Birnbaum by Kington. However, as Birnbaum and the other speakers made clear, the ceremony was also deeply infused with symbolism—an event marking the appointment of the first woman and first toxicologist to hold the position of director in the institute’s 43-year history and a reassessment of the direction NIEHS will take in the months and years ahead.

“It is truly an honor to serve as the director of the NIEHS and the NTP,” Birnbaum said. “This is a very special day for me, and it’s even more special because so many of my family members, friends and colleagues are here to share this occasion with me.” Seated in the audience were her mother, husband David, two daughters and a host of friends and colleagues from her careers at NIEHS, NTP and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Birnbaum spoke of her personal quest for equilibrium between the personal and professional—“I try to have some fun every day”—and her optimism that America today is indeed experiencing the rise of “a national movement for positive and constructive change” in the nation’s relationship with the environment. As she reminded the audience that “we all need to make the whole [of NIEHS and public health in general] bigger than the sum of the parts,” she reiterated her dedication to comprehensive translational research, “open communication and transparency” and “empowering those who work for me and with me” at what she described as “the world’s premier environmental health research organization.”

CSR Welcomes IRG Chief Bent
Dr. Katherine Bent

Dr. Katherine Bent has joined the Center for Scientific Review as chief of the health care, delivery and methodologies integrated review group.

Bent comes from the Department of Veterans Affairs central office in Washington, D.C., where she served as a scientific program manager in the Office of Research and Development. She oversaw and fostered a diverse scientific portfolio of health services research related to managing and treating chronic conditions, health profession education and nursing. She also organized peer review groups, assisted researchers at various stages of the funding process and conceptualized and arranged scientific meetings and professional symposia.

Bent, who started at CSR on Mar. 1, has a doctorate from the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School. Among other degrees, she also is an advanced practice registered nurse who graduated from the University of Virginia with specializations in complex illness and home and community health.

Her IRG reviews applications for research on health and health-related behaviors of individuals and populations, particularly studies related to socio-environmental factors, cultural factors and processes and more. It is located in CSR’s AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences Division.

New Frontiers for NIGMS’s Norvell
Dr. John Norvell
Dr. John Norvell exploring (and photographing)
the Great Wall of China

Put a pin in each country visited by Dr. John Norvell and the globe will soon resemble a pin cushion. Vacation photos—some of them award-winning—show him on African safari, cruising to the Arctic Circle, climbing Egyptian pyramids and snorkeling the waters of the Galapagos Islands. Just last year, he went to Greece and the Yucatan peninsula.

“You never wanted to be the person who followed John during staff photo shows,” said colleague and fellow travel enthusiast Dr. Michael Rogers, who helped organize informal lunches for Norvell and others to share their recent vacation pictures.

To celebrate his retirement from a 32-year career at NIH, Norvell and his wife packed their bags for a 3-week trip to Australia and New Zealand—two countries not yet stamped in Norvell’s passport.

“I like to experience a little bit of everything,” he said, adding that his 1969 postdoctoral research experience in Denmark sparked his interest in travel.

After earning his Ph.D. in physics from Yale University and doing research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Norvell came to NIH in 1975. He worked with Dr. David Davies at NIDDK to set up a research program for capturing the 3-dimensional structures of proteins and other biological molecules. After a short stint with the National Academy of Sciences, he returned to NIH as a program director for NIGMS—his address for more than 30 years.

While Norvell has managed a number of NIGMS research portfolios and other responsibilities during his career, two have made him legendary to his friends and colleagues across NIH and the biomedical research community.

One is research training, an area that Norvell said originally brought him to NIGMS. When he first joined the institute, he helped manage multidisciplinary training grants and postdoctoral fellowships. Norvell’s duties included making more than 100 visits to universities and medical schools. Until his retirement on Mar. 2, Norvell directed the $184 million program, which supports graduate students, including M.D./Ph.D. candidates and clinical postdoctoral fellows at more than 70 institutions. Under his stewardship, the program has grown to include new training disciplines that represent multi- and interdisciplinary areas, and to emphasize efforts that increase the diversity of the research workforce.

As a program director in structural biology, Norvell worked with former NIGMS director Dr. Marvin Cassman to identify a major challenge of the field: determining the shapes of thousands of proteins quickly and cheaply. Norvell in 2000 helped spearhead the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI). As director of the 10-year, $600 million effort, he coordinated the research of 23 collaborative teams that have created structure determination pipelines and new technologies to solve and study more than 3,500 protein shapes.

While admired for his ability to manage two large grant programs, Norvell was respected even more for his character.

“Whether it was training, research or spearheading a whole new field such as structural genomics, he approached each project enthusiastically and thoroughly,” said Dr. Helen Berman, who directs a PSI resource center and the Protein Data Bank.

In retirement, Norvell will focus on his hobbies: bike riding, swimming and, of course, travel.

Saying goodbye to NIH, he admitted, is bittersweet. “I have so many things that I’m looking forward to doing now that I’ll have time, but I’m really going to miss the stimulating and intellectual life I’ve had here,” he said.

NIAIDís Battistone Mourned
Mabel Battistone

Mabel Battistone died recently at age 91. Few people begin 30-year federal careers at an age when many people are eligible to retire, but she was one of them.

Born in Fairfax, Va., in 1917, she married Stefano (Stephen) Battistone in 1939. She planned to get a job after getting married, but was talked out of it by her husband. After the younger of her two children finished high school, she told her husband that she intended to work outside the home.

In 1973, at age 55, she began her career in project control in the Division of Research Grants, now called the Center for Scientific Review. She briefly worked in fellowships and then moved on to the NIAID records management office under the late division director Dr. John Diggs. She left NIAID briefly to work in NCI’s Grants Review Branch but returned to NIAID, working under the new division director, Dr. John J. McGowan, and deputy director, Allan Czarra, until she retired at age 85. During her time at NIAID, she managed the secondary level of peer review for grants during NIAID advisory board meetings.

Her colleagues were surprised when she told them she was leaving and asked, “Can’t you stay for a few more years?” She never took sick leave during her entire career and with her saved sick leave she was able to add one year of time to her career for a total of 31 years of service.

She was known as a self-starter with boundless energy. Anyone needing help knew that Battistone was the right person to ask. Her office is still referred to as “Mabel’s shop.”

Battistone was an active member of NIH Lodge 2547 Order, Sons of Italy in America, even though she was an Italian by marriage.

Former NIAID Virologist Takemoto Dies
Dr. Kenneth K. Takemoto

Dr. Kenneth K. Takemoto, 88, a retired virologist at NIAID who studied viruses associated with human cancers, died Feb. 27 at his home in Kensington.

He was born Kaname Takemoto in rural Kapaa, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. He was a freshman at the University of Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. While not interned, he was, however, classified as an “enemy alien” and discharged from the university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps. He and other young Japanese Hawaiians eager to contribute to the war effort had to work for a year to prove their loyalty.

In 1943, the Army allowed the young Japanese Americans to volunteer. Takemoto served as a combat medic in Italy with the all-Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion, 42nd Regimental Combat Team. He received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster.

He moved to Washington in 1946 and enrolled at George Washington University on the G.I. Bill. He received three degrees from GWU—his bachelor’s degree in 1948, his master’s in 1950 and his doctorate in 1953.

He accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at NIH, which led to a full-time job lasting 32 years. Takemoto is recognized internationally for his studies of DNA tumor viruses, which include SV40, mouse polyoma virus and human adenoviruses. He carried out some of the earliest experiments of the human polyoma viruses, BKV and JCV, the latter now recognized as the causative agent of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a degenerative demyelinating disease frequently seen in immunosuppressed individuals. He also taught at the NIH graduate school and the University of Hawaii, and lectured at other universities and research laboratories including Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins universities and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

He particularly enjoyed working with postdoctoral fellows and with exchange scientists from Japan who spent time at NIH. Toward the end of his career, he worked on the AIDS virus, which was still something of a mystery at the time.

Takemoto received the Public Health Service Commendation Medal in 1970 and the Meritorious Service Medal in 1975. He retired in 1984. He loved tennis, golf and fishing, especially surf-fishing for bluefish in the fall at Assateague Island. He also kept a small vegetable garden.

He was known for his sense of humor. While reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences, his son recalled, “if he beat a friend at tennis, you’d never hear the end of it.”

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Alice Takemoto of Kensington, his son, Paul Takemoto, a daughter, Ruth McInroy, and three grandchildren. NIHRecord Icon

back to top of page