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Vol. LXII, No. 8
April 16, 2010

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Grants Management Guru Cohn Ends Long NIGMS Career

Marcia Cohn has witnessed many changes during her 31-year career at NIGMS: the growth of the grants management staff from 10 to 31, the transition from typewriters to word processors to computers and a budget increase from less than a million dollars to almost $2 billion. Feb. 3 marked another change for Cohn—retirement from her position as a grants management officer.

Marcia Cohn (r), shown here with Grace Olascoaga, celebrated her retirement with her NIGMS friends recently.
Marcia Cohn (r), shown here with Grace Olascoaga, celebrated her retirement with her NIGMS friends recently.

“Marcia’s been an exemplary employee and supervisor, dedicated to the mission of NIH and continually contributing toward improving processes and the professional development of staff,” said NIGMS chief grants management officer Grace Olascoaga. “With her technical knowledge of grants management, she has made significant contributions to the NIGMS and NIH grants management communities, from helping to write policy documents to supporting a professional certification program and enhancing hiring practices.”

Cohn joined NIGMS in 1978 as a clerk-typist in the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB) after earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Maryland. Four years later, she accepted a position as a grants management specialist trainee working on the GDB grant portfolio.

“I enjoyed working in GDB—and I discovered that I wanted to go into grants administration. I already had a general overview from working with the program staff and interacting with the grants administration branch, so it seemed it would be the right fit for me,” said Cohn. In 1988, she took on a supervisory position serving as the GDB grants management officer.

“I’ve known Marcia for almost as many years as she’s been at NIGMS,” said GDB director Dr. Judith Greenberg. “She’s been absolutely great to work with. I could depend on Marcia’s knowledge and good judgment, and I’ll really miss all the fun we had coming up with solutions to some of the most complex grant situations you could imagine.”

During her NIGMS career, Cohn served on numerous committees including STEP, the grants management advisory committee (GMAC), the GMAC certification board, the administrative training committee/Administrative Fellows Program and the HHS hiring reform committee. In addition, she helped plan and organize the NIGMS implementation of eGrants and eAdditions. One of Cohn’s most notable contributions to the NIH community was a performance exercise that she developed to improve the way NIH grants management supervisors hire new staff.

“We created several mathematical computation questions that reflect the types of problems an individual would face in a grants management job. In 2000, we began using the exercise to help us figure out if applicants were qualified to handle grants management positions,” Cohn said.

Cohn says that she has enjoyed “giving back” by mentoring new grants management staff and plans to serve in a related role during her retirement. “I love people, teaching and serving as a resource—and I plan to continue volunteering at a local elementary school day care reading program.” She also plans to exercise, travel and visit her NIGMS friends when possible.

“I will miss the people the most,” said Cohn. “I have had the best team to work with—people who are hardworking, committed to the mission and genuinely care about each other.” Marcia Cohn (r), shown here with Grace Olascoaga, celebrated her retirement with her NIGMS friends recently.

NICHD’s Gandjbakhche Honored

Dr. Richard Paules Dr. Amir Gandjbakhche, head of NICHD’s section on analytical and functional biophotonics, has been named a fellow of SPIE, an international society advancing light-based research. He is one of 62 new fellows honored for having made significant scientific and technical contributions in the multidisciplinary fields of optics, photonics and imaging. Gandjbakhche was cited for his achievements in biomedical optics, specifically his mathematical modeling of how light moves through complex biological systems, including cancerous tissue. His work has led to improved imaging of breast tumors and Kaposi’s sarcoma, providing quantitative ways to monitor angiogenesis and the effects of chemotherapy. He also has served the society by co-chairing five SPIE-organized NIH inter-institute workshops on optical diagnostic imaging from bench to bedside and by serving on the editorial board of the SPIE Journal of Biomedical Optics since 2000.

CSR’s Amir Retires, Hands Over Reins of Alumni Association

Dr. Syed Amir

“It is very easy to become completely lost once you retire,” said Dr. Syed Amir, before he retired from CSR after 22 years. “Most of us stay interested in what’s going on at CSR…and we want to know about friends we worked with.”

Fortunately for Amir and other CSR retirees, retiring doesn’t mean they’re cut off. They can join the unofficial CSR Alumni Association, which Amir led for 2½ years prior to retiring.

For nearly 10 years, a group of CSR retirees and employees have quietly met three times a year for lunch to mull over issues vital to science, life and health—often their own.

At a recent meeting, members found a shared opportunity to laugh about it. “Every morning is a good day as long as you can get out of bed and put two feet on the ground,” said one member. Another quickly chimed in: “The golden years are so overrated and so full of doctor’s appointments. But I am having fun traveling.”

The meetings are simple. Everyone introduces themselves and gives an update on what’s happening in their lives. They often share stories about exotic travels, births of grandchildren, deaths of beloveds, new relationships, illnesses and the road to recovery and, of course, the good old days of scientific review.

“It’s a big benefit,” said Amir. “It allows you to remain in touch and reminisce.”

Amir has many stories to share. He grew up in a small town in India. “We didn’t have any electricity,” he said. “I did my homework at night using a paraffin lamp.” He was about 7 when Mahatma Gandhi was murdered. “We were traumatized,” he said, but there was no friction between the Hindus and Muslims in his small town. “Everyone knew everyone,” said Amir.

“My father was a physician,” he said. “For three generations my forefathers practiced the Indian system of medicine.” His father wanted him to learn western medicine. After earning an M.Sc. at Aligarh University in India, Amir took a job in Pakistan, which sent him to the University of Birmingham in England, where he earned his Ph.D. studying sugar-amino acid model compounds that mimic linkages that occur in glycoprotein hormones. After completing his postdoctoral studies there, he returned to Pakistan and was a senior research officer at the Pakistan Council of Scientific Research.

He then came to the United States in 1969. He spent 2 years at the University of California before moving to Harvard University, where he was an assistant professor, studying the thyroid stimulator in women with molar pregnancy who suffered from severe thyroid hyperfunction.

Amir came to the NIH Division of Research Grants (now CSR) in 1987. After coordinating reviews of fellowship applications, he managed the endocrinology study section. When it was reorganized in 1992, it was split and Amir managed one of the new review groups: the molecular and cellular endocrinology study section. Most recently, he was scientific review officer for the integrative, clinical endocrinology and reproduction study section.

“I’m not tired of it,” said Amir. “I enjoyed interacting with my reviewers and colleagues…I’m just at the stage in my life when I have decided to do something else. I’m interested in writing for Pakistani newspapers here and in Pakistan…and in attending lectures at the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution and classes at Montgomery College.”

There will be many adventures and challenges ahead, but Amir won’t be lost. He has passed the reins for leading the CSR Alumni Association to Josephine Pelham, who will continue to invite CSR family members to sit awhile and share.

NIEHS’s Paules Honored with ‘Leading Edge’ Award

Dr. Richard Paules
NIEHS principal investigator Dr. Richard Paules received the 2010 Leading Edge in Basic Science Award at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting Mar. 7-11 in Salt Lake City. He was honored for his pioneering work advancing the fields of toxicogenomics and predictive toxicology over the past 15 years. Paules heads the Environmental Stress and Cancer Group and directs the Microarray Core Facility at NIEHS. He was recognized “for his work in the integration of genomics into the investigation of the molecular basis of injury and disease processes.” The commendation noted his administrative and scientific leadership and his advocacy of the development of publicly accessible databases to facilitate discovery research using ’omics methodologies. The awards committee emphasized the importance of his leading edge proof-of-concept studies in the development of predictive biomarkers of the initiation and progression of those processes. Paules and colleagues have employed toxicogenomic approaches to develop predictive tests for preventing and treating liver damage well before it shows up on the clinical chemistry tests currently used.

CSR’s Bunnag Retires After 35 Years

Dr. Bill Bunnag

Dr. Bill Bunnag is a lucky man, and his lucky number is 9. “I came to this country in 1959. I married in 1969, and I retired in 2009,” he explained when he retired from the Center for Scientific Review after 35 years at NIH. He was the scientific review officer for the biomedical computing and health informatics study section and also a referral officer.

Luck was with him after he got his Ph.D. in biological sciences from George Washington University in 1973. “Nixon had declared war on cancer, and I wrote to NCI,” said Bunnag. “They were looking for somebody with my background.” He was a certified cytotechnologist and NCI hired him right away to help oversee contracts and program efforts to automate cervical cancer screening. It was an exciting time. Bunnag was involved in evaluating—among other approaches—high-altitude reconnaissance technology from the Cold War to look at the typology of malignant cells.

Bunnag’s success wasn’t just luck. “He is a hard worker,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa. “He is known for the quiet and diligent way he excels in whatever task he takes on.” For instance, he completed his B.S., M.S., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees at GW while a full-time employee, on employee scholarships.

After serving as executive secretary of NCI’s committee on cytology automation, Bunnag became chief of NCI’s pathology-cytology automation section and later served as executive secretary of the diagnosis research advisory group. He then moved to NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Prevention, where he was program director for extramural activities before becoming a program director in its Cancer Training Branch.

In 1988, Bunnag joined the new NCI Office of Technology Development to help implement the Technology Transfer Act.

After a short time at NCRR, he came to the Division of Research Grants (now CSR) in 1990 to coordinate reviews of small business applications for research in biomedical computing and health informatics. It was a job he never tired of. “I’m very grateful for the small ways I made a contribution,” he said. “I enjoyed looking at future research in medical informatics including telemedicine, teleimaging, telesurgery…and seeing these technologies come into use and save lives.”

During his tenure, Bunnag played a key role in supporting diversity at NIH. He is a past president of the NIH Asian and Pacific Islander American Organization. And he was the first chairman of the Asian/Pacific Islander employment committee. “We looked at NIH systemically to make sure we were treated on our own merits,” he said. He was pleased with what he discovered: “NIH has been a leader in so many ways, in equality, opportunity, encouragement, retention and recruitment…NIH excels because NIH cares.

“It has been my genuine privilege to serve NIH,” he continued. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity.”

Insel To Receive Prize for Brain Hormone Studies

Dr. Thomas R. Insel

NIMH director Dr. Thomas R. Insel is among three neuroscientists who will share the 2010 Foundation Ipsen Neuronal Plasticity Prize for their studies on the “neuroendocrine control of behavior.” The French foundation presents the award to “researchers who publish remarkable, pioneering studies.” Insel will share the prize with Drs. Donald Pfaff and Bruce McEwen, both of Rockefeller University.

A psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Insel discovered how brain systems for the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin mediate social behaviors such as parental care and pair bonding. He conducted much of this research in different species of voles, small mouse-like rodents that have evolved divergent forms of social organization. Some vole species are monogamous and highly social, while others are loners. Insel’s research revealed striking differences in the location of the receptors for the hormones that account for the species differences in social behaviors.

These studies, which Insel reviews in the journal Neuron this month, led to greater understanding of the molecular basis of parenting behavior, pair bonding and aggression. They also helped launch the field of social neuroscience. More recently, this research inspired new approaches to treating social behavior impairments; just last month, researchers reported that oxytocin can improve social behavior in autism.

Insel began his prize-winning studies in the mid-1980s at NIMH labs in Poolesville. A decade later, he continued them at Emory University, where he was the founding director of the NSF-funded Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and director of an NIH-funded Center for Autism Research.

The Foundation Ipsen Prize in Neuronal Plasticity will be presented at a symposium at the 7th Forum of European Neuroscience in Amsterdam on July 4.

NEI’s Zelenka Retires After 37 Years at NIH

Dr. Peggy Zelenka

Dr. Peggy Zelenka, chief of NEI’s Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology (LMDB), recently retired and is now scientist emeritus. During her 37-year career, she published more than 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals, received many distinguished awards for scientific achievement, mentored more than 20 postdoctoral fellows and served on a number of governing committees at NIH and in the vision community.

Zelenka received a Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University. In 1972, she joined the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as a postdoctoral fellow. In 1974, she moved to NEI as a senior staff fellow, subsequently becoming principal investigator, section head and laboratory chief at the institute. Her mentor, Dr. Joram Piatigorsky, said, “I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with Peggy for more than 35 years; her significant and far-reaching research, excellent mentoring and steady devotion have been major assets of the LMDB since its inception in 1982.”

Zelenka studied signal transduction pathways that regulate differentiation, migration and adhesion of lens and corneal epithelial cells of the eye. She identified growth factors responsible for lens epithelial cell growth and differentiation and demonstrated an important role of phospholipids in these processes. She pioneered the study of arachidonic acid metabolites in the lens and showed that one member of this family is essential for cell division in this tissue. She is perhaps best known, however, for her work on the enzyme Cdk5. Her lab discovered that this enzyme, thought to be limited to neurons, was present in the lens—a tissue that has no nerves. The laboratory demonstrated that Cdk5 is important in regulating cell adhesion and migration in a variety of epithelial cells, not just those of the lens. Notably, they showed that inhibition of Cdk5 activity increases the rate of corneal wound closure in vivo, a finding with important clinical implications.

Zelenka received the 1992 NEI Director’s Award, the 1995 Senju Pharmaceutical Award for Cataract Research, the 1998 Alcon Research Foundation Award and the 2005 NIH postbac IRTA committee Outstanding Mentoring Certificate.

She also served on many governing committees including the NIH central tenure committee, the NIH committee on scientific conduct and ethics and the NIH ombudsman advisory committee. She was on the editorial boards of Molecular Vision and Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science.

In the early 1990s, an NIH task force was established to assess the status of women scientists in the intramural program. As the NEI representative, Zelenka participated in a report recommending that each institute have a woman scientist advisor (WSA). This was implemented and Zelenka served a 2-year term as chair of the NIH WSA committee and two terms as NEI representative. More recently, she was a member of a second task force that reassessed the status of women and tried to identify factors that impeded women scientists from pursuing long-term research careers. She helped draft suggestions for increasing workplace flexibility for women scientists.

“Peggy has been an excellent scientist, mentor and role model,” said Dr. Deborah Carper, NEI acting deputy director. “She showed quiet activism that helped make a positive change in career advancement and child care issues at NIH.”

In retirement, Zelenka’s main focus will be to mentor NEI fellows and engage in such hobbies as gardening and studying Japanese language and culture.

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