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Vol. LXI, No. 18
September 4, 2009

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NICHD Mournes Shriverís Passing

NICHD recently mourned the passing of the institute’s namesake, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. In 2008, Congress acknowledged Shriver’s role in the founding of the institute by renaming it the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Shriver persuaded her brother, then-President Kennedy, to propose an NIH institute focusing on child health and human development research. Shriver testified in support of that subsequent legislation establishing the new institute and worked to persuade members of Congress to approve it. NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander noted that the institute Shriver championed was responsible for advances that have nearly eliminated such once-common causes of intellectual disability as Haemophilus influenzae type B meningitis, phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism. He added that other institute-sponsored research documented the benefits and feasibility of mainstreaming children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities into schools and communities. “We owe these and numerous other advances in health, especially for those with disabilities, to Mrs. Shriver’s determined efforts,” he said. “She will be greatly missed.” Shown above is the plaque commemorating the renaming of the institute in Shriver’s honor.

Gindhart Joins NIGMS Division
Dr. Joseph Gindhart

Dr. Joseph Gindhart has joined NIGMS as a program director in the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics. He oversees research grants involving motor proteins, cytoskeletal filaments and intracellular transport. Prior to joining NIGMS, Gindhart was an associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Richmond, where he studied the intracellular transport of proteins in Drosophila and taught courses in cell biology, genetics and bioinformatics. He also served as the principal investigator on a grant from the Beckman Scholars Program, which supports undergraduate research training for students in chemistry, biochemistry and biological and medical science fields. Gindhart earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in genetics from Indiana University. He did postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego.


White House Announces 2008 Awards for Early Career Scientists, Engineers

Dr. Kristin V. Tarbell
Dr. Kristin V. Tarbell, chief of the immune tolerance section in NIDDK’s Diabetes Branch, is a 2008 PECASE recipient.

Eleven NIH grantees and one intramural scientist have been selected by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to be among this year’s 100 researchers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the outset of their professional careers. Since the program began in 1996, NIH has funded a total of 153 PECASE recipients. Awardees will be honored by President Obama at a White House ceremony later this year.

“These 12 NIH-supported PECASE winners are a source of great pride for the agency,” said then NIH acting director Dr. Raynard Kington. “Early in their research careers, these individuals have already shown exceptional potential for scientific leadership. We can only look forward to greater discovery and contribution by these gifted biomedical researchers.”

The intramural scientist is Dr. Kristin V. Tarbell, tenure-track investigator and chief of the immune tolerance section in the Diabetes Branch, NIDDK. “It was a really nice surprise and a confirmation that my work is heading in the right direction,” she said.

Tarbell and her team are probing the role of dendritic cells in the autoimmune process that underlies type 1 diabetes. Her goal is to understand how these immune cells behave normally and in autoimmunity and to manipulate them to induce immune tolerance (that is, to quiet the immune attack). In type 1 diabetes, the targets of that misguided attack are the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. “We want to modulate dendritic cells because they function at critical decision points for immune responses,” she explained. “We always have in mind the question—how can we translate what we learn to treat autoimmunity?”

Dendritic cells, though few in number compared to the hefty populations of other immune cells, are important for directing how the immune system will respond to different stimuli. These front-line defenders fight infection by responding to environmental signals, like bacteria, and presenting antigens to T cells, which then move into action. But dendritic cells also have a peace-making role, emitting signals that turn off the immune response. Working mainly with a mouse model of type 1 diabetes in humans, Tarbell is trying to understand all the signals that dendritic cells respond to under different conditions.

“The immune system is designed to be antigen-specific, and in type 1 diabetes, some common antigens, such as insulin, expressed in beta cells, have been identified. The idea is to find a way for dendritic cells to present antigens in a way that will turn off the autoreactive responses and leave alone the desirable ones—that’s for me the ultimate goal,” Tarbell said. To accomplish this, she’s looking at a number of approaches, such as inducing dendritic cells to activate regulatory T cells, which also play a role in calming the autoimmune response.

As a postdoc at Rockefeller University, Tarbell and her advisor showed that dendritic cells could be coaxed into stimulating the growth of regulatory T cells that are specific for beta cell antigens. Treatment with these regulatory T cells then protected beta cells in mice from further destruction by immune cells, curing diabetes in the mice. Regulatory T cells rein in destructive T cells and might hold the key to treating autoimmune diseases.

Tarbell and her group at NIH are now pursuing new studies in diabetes-prone mice. They’re attempting to prompt dendritic cells to increase the regulatory T cell responses against beta cell antigens and turn off the T cell responses killing the beta cells. Their strategy uses antibodies against proteins expressed on certain types of dendritic cells to deliver antigen to those cells in a way that promotes immune tolerance.

Tarbell earned a B.A. from Cornell University in 1995 and a Ph.D. in immunology at Stanford University in 2002. That year, she started a post-doc with Dr. Ralph Steinman at Rockefeller University. She joined NIDDK’s Diabetes Branch, led by Dr. David Harlan, in 2007.—Joan Chamberlain

Extramural PECASE Awardees

The extramural PECASE awardees are:

Dr. Thomas P. Cappola, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine—His research on the use of genetic and genomic approaches for studying ventricular remodeling in humans is supported by a grant from NHLBI.

Dr. Pablo A. Celnik, Johns Hopkins Hospital—His research on the underlying mechanisms of plasticity in the central nervous system in order to develop novel therapeutic approaches that promote recovery of function following an injury is supported by a grant from NICHD.

Dr. Felicia D. Goodrum, University of Arizona—Her research on hematopoietic progenitor cells and their influence on latency in human cytomegalovirus infections is supported by a grant from NIAID.

Dr. Bruce J. Hinds, III, University of Kentucky—His research on the use of gated carbon nanotube membranes for transdermal drug delivery is supported by a grant from NIDA.

Dr. Helen H. Lu, Columbia University—Her work on the use of biomimetic scaffolds to promote chondrocyte-mediated regeneration of the interface between soft tissue and bone is supported by a grant from NIAMS.

Dr. Ulrike Peters, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—Her research on selenium and the interaction of genetic variations and nutrition on cancer prevention is supported by NCI.

Dr. Jeremy F. Reiter, University of California at San Francisco—His research on the role of the proto-oncogene Smoothened and its interaction with the primary cilium in the development of cancer is supported by a grant from NIAMS.

Dr. Marisa Roberto, Scripps Research Institute—Her research on neuropeptides, neuronal function and synaptic communication related to alcohol and other drugs of abuse is supported by a grant from NIAAA.

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, Scripps Research Institute—Her studies on the role of glycoproteins in the pathogenicity and immunogenicity of Ebola virus is supported by a grant from NIAID.

Dr. Oscar E. Suman, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, University of Texas Medical Branch—His research on supervised and structured aerobic and resistance exercise on muscle mass and bone mass in severely burned children is supported by a grant from NICHD.

Dr. Gonzalo E. Torres, University of Pittsburgh—His research on cellular and molecular regulation of monoamine transporters in brain and the relationship to psychiatric disorders and drug addiction is supported by a grant from NIDA.

Edwards Named IRG Chief at CSR

Dr. Samuel Edwards

The Center for Scientific Review recently named Dr. Samuel Edwards as chief of the brain disorders and clinical neuroscience integrated review group.

“We selected Dr. Edwards from an impressive group of candidates for many cogent reasons,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa. “First, he has an extensive background in neuroscience and research exploring the cellular basis of brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Second, Dr. Edwards brings nearly 10 years experience as a scientific review officer and team leader. He knows every aspect of peer review from administration to policy and he has excelled in multiple leadership roles with various CSR and peer review committees and initiatives.”

Since 2000, Edwards has been a scientific review officer for CSR’s cell and molecular immunology A study section. Among other leadership roles, he coordinates the peer review policy section of CSR’s intranet. He has a Ph.D. in zoology with an emphasis in cell biology and physiology and had postdoctoral training at the National Eye Institute and the Whitney Laboratory of the University of Florida.

Before coming to CSR, Edwards was an assistant professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine where he taught cell biology, molecular pharmacology and cell signaling mechanisms. During his tenure there, he also conducted research in cellular neuroscience.

Podskalny Honored by American Gastroenterological Association

Dr. Judith Podskalny

NIDDK’s Dr. Judith Podskalny recently received the 2009 Research Service Award from the American Gastroenterological Association at its annual meeting in Chicago. She was recognized for her significant contributions to gastroenterological science and research.

As a program director in the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition (DDDN), Podskalny manages the career development, research fellowship and digestive disease centers programs. She is also responsible for the minority supplements for training grants within DDDN and represents NIDDK on the NIH training advisory committee.

Recognized for her commitment to nurturing young gastroenterological researchers, Podskalny also partners with colleagues from NIDDK’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases to organize a “new investigator” workshop every 18 months for NIDDK career (K) awardees. Recipients attend once during the period of their K award.

Podskalny started her career at NIH in 1972 as a research technician in the Pediatric Metabolism Branch of what is now NIDDK. In 1974, she moved to NIDDK’s Diabetes Branch. She later became a scientific review administrator in the review branch of the institute’s extramural research division. She accepted her current position in 1991. Podskalny received her bachelor of science degree in biology from Duquesne University and her doctorate degree in genetics from George Washington University.

NIAIDís Strober Honored for Lifetime of Achievements
By Julie Wu

Dr. Warren Strober
Dr. Warren Strober of NIAID’s Laboratory of Host Defenses celebrates a multitude of recent awards for his contributions to science.

Dr. Warren Strober, chief of the mucosal immunity section in NIAID’s Laboratory of Host Defenses, has much to celebrate these days. Between 2008 and 2009, he received four awards for his work in the field of mucosal immunity and his contributions to the current understanding and treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), notably Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

The most significant honor is the 2009 William Beaumont Prize from the American Gastroenterological Association. Named for the pioneer of 19th century gastroenterology, the award was established in 1976 to recognize investigators whose work has markedly advanced the field of gastroenterology.

Since joining NIAID in the early 1980s, Strober has led a team of clinicians and research scientists working to define the mucosal immune system, which is found in the moist lining of the nose, mouth, lungs and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. His group also studies the interactions between immune cells that coat the inside of the GI tract and commensal bacteria, or microflora, normally found in the intestines of healthy people. Their discoveries have formed the basis of knowledge about the key role the antibody immunoglobulin A plays in mucosal immunity. In addition, their work has led to a greater understanding of how inflammation and immune tolerance—the damping down of self-destructive immune responses—occur in the gut.

Research on inflammatory bowel diseases has gained Strober and his colleagues the most recognition. He views IBDs as autoimmune diseases because people with these disorders mount a response to commensals.

“Our research has been concerned with understanding what mechanism leads to this abnormal response to the normal gut microflora and exploring possible therapeutic options,” he said.

Since 2004, Strober’s group has published a series of studies that clarified the mechanism by which polymorphisms, or different forms, of a gene called CARD15, lead to increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease. These studies have revealed a genetic basis for the hypersensitivity to microflora characterizing Crohn’s disease.

Other areas of research in his lab focus on new treatments for IBDs. They have shown that an antibody against the inflammatory protein interleukin-12 is effective in reducing the symptoms of Crohn’s disease. Clinical trials also are planned to explore the therapeutic efficacy of antibodies against interleukin-13 (IL-13) in ulcerative colitis, which is the result of work conducted in Strober’s laboratory showing that immune cells producing IL-13 are a major mechanism in the cause of this disease.

Over the years, Strober has received numerous awards including the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterological Association, the Distinguished Service Medal at NIH and many Public Health Service awards. In addition, he has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Humboldt University, Berlin. Strober has provided leadership to the scientific community as chair of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, past president of the Society for Mucosal Immunity and senior advisor to the Harvard Digestive Disease Center and other digestive disease centers.

Despite the recognition Strober has received for his research, he remains humble and grateful to those who have worked with him to make these discoveries possible.

“My most significant accomplishment is the training of clinicians and Ph.D.s who have gone on to make independent and important contributions after leaving my laboratory,” he said. “I maintain contact with many former trainees since they have moved on from the lab, and I have several joint projects with former lab members.

“I am also honored to have two outstanding long-time research associates, Dr. Ivan Fuss and Dr. Atsushi Kitani, who have been instrumental in making our research successful,” he added. “The Beaumont Prize, which is only given by the American Gastroenterological Association every 3 years, is really a testament to and recognition of the achievements of our entire lab.”

The three additional awards presented to Strober are the Scientific Achievement Award for Basic Science from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (2008); the Ismar Boas Medal from the German Gastroenterological Association (2008); and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Mucosal Immunology (2009).

NIEHS Biostatistician Umbach Honored

Dr. David Umbach

NIEHS Biostatistics Branch staff scientist Dr. David Umbach was honored as an American Statistical Association (ASA) fellow at the annual ASA Joint Statistical Meeting in Washington recently. Umbach, who joined NIEHS in 1992, is the third member of his branch to be named an ASA fellow. He develops new statistical tools for detecting and characterizing gene-environment interactions through epidemiologic studies, especially in regard to the design of case-control and case-parents investigations. Umbach is also a key contributor to studies of such topics as genetic susceptibility to cancer, environmental and genetic influences on neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, effects of pesticides on respiratory diseases in the Agricultural Health Study cohort and the hormonal effects of soy formula in infants. Founded in Boston in 1839, ASA is the second oldest continuously operating professional society in the United States.

Photo: Steve McCaw

Inn Volunteer Horner Mourned

Wally Horner
Wally Horner, 83, a longtime volunteer at the Children’s Inn at NIH, died Aug. 2 at his home in Kensington. For the past 18 years, he had been an energetic and generous presence at the inn.

Horner arrived at the inn every morning at 5:30. A retired U.S. Navy and CIA veteran, he first walked the outside perimeter of the inn to make sure everything was as it should be. He then spent several hours stocking linen closets and food pantries and assembling the morning teacart.

“Most people thought Wally ran the inn,” said Laura King, director of volunteers and community outreach. “He was so much a part of our mission. The kids, the families, we all miss him so much.”

Horner followed the progress of many youngsters, giving them a needed hug to boost their spirits on their way to treatment each day. For all he did, he was presented with the Lifetime Presidential Service Award.

Horner will be remembered as a grandfather figure to many young children. “He always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word for anyone who greeted him,” said King. He was the beloved bingo caller every other Tuesday.

Horner recently said about volunteering, “I’ve been here, working for the Children’s Inn, being with the children and the families you know, nothing like it. Perfect, couldn’t be better...just like heaven, couldn’t be any nicer.”

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