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Vol. LXII, No. 18
September 3, 2010

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NIMH’s Steyer Retires After 36 Years

Maxine Steyer and NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel

Maxine Steyer and NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel

In a career spanning 36 years in the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health, Maxine Steyer has worked with every scientific director in the history of the institute except one, who preceded her arrival in 1974. In many ways, Steyer has been the “institutional memory” of the program. So it was with fondness tinged with sadness that more than 200 current and former members of the NIMH community gathered recently to bid her farewell upon her retirement.

Steyer began her career in the section on alkaloid biosynthesis, headed by Dr. S. Harvey Mudd, in Bldg. 32A. She moved to the old Bldg. 36 in 1978 to assist Dr. Giulio Cantoni, who headed the Laboratory of General and Comparative Biochemistry. In 1983, she transitioned into the scientific director’s office in Bldg. 10, where she began acquiring the higher-level administrative skills that have in turn enhanced the careers of so many who have passed through the NIMH intramural program over the past 27 years.

Steyer’s memories are marked by the many transitions experienced by NIMH. She was here through the transfer of NIMH to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration in 1974, and back to NIH in 1992. She also worked through the transfer of St. Elizabeths Hospital to the District of Columbia in 1987 and its scientific staff’s return to the NIH campus in 1999. Her fondest memories, however, center on the many staff and faculty recruitments she handled over the years as a program specialist in the Office of the Scientific Director.

One of her great strengths has always been her ability to anticipate change and make the most of it. Steyer was instrumental in shaping the changes that came about in personnel appointment mechanisms and review processes, so much so that other NIH institutes asked for her input when Title 42 pay models were implemented. She took the lead when the tenure-track system was established in 1994 and has been here for every tenure-track appointment since; she was also instrumental in establishing a new position, that of administrative lab manager, in 2003.

When asked what the best part of spending an entire career at one institute was, Steyer didn’t hesitate a moment: “Where else would I have had the opportunity to work directly with a Nobel laureate, a Lasker Award winner, many members of the IOM and the National Academies and such great, world-renowned scientists and clinicians?” She continued, “But it was always the support staff who made it easy and worthwhile during the rough periods.”

Steyer served on numerous committees during her career, including the NIH employee orientation committee, NIH A-76 subcommittee, NIMH crisis response team and NIH HR liaison committee. She received an ADAMHA Administrator’s Award for exceptional achievement, numerous NIMH Director’s Awards and an HHS Employee of the Month Award. “Max Steyer is one of the most beloved employees of NIMH,” said scientific director Dr. Richard Nakamura. “She knows and has cared for all of us as individuals.”

Steyer has returned to her family’s farm in Garrett County, Md., where she looks forward to spending time with her many family members. An avid gardener and admirer of all things floral, she anticipates spending a lot of time digging in the rich soil and nurturing new growth—just as she did at NIMH.

Chanock, Distinguished Virologist, Dies

Dr. Robert Chanock, in 2003
Dr. Robert Chanock, in 2003

On July 30, the NIH community lost a colleague, mentor, scientific pioneer and friend when renowned virologist and former chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Infectious Diseases (LID), Dr. Robert M. Chanock died at age 86.

“NIAID and NIH mourn the loss of Bob Chanock, an outstanding scientist whose innumerable contributions to the understanding of viral diseases helped make the world a healthier place for millions of people,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID. “Bob truly was a legend whose work has had a profound influence on so many in the scientific community, including me. He will be greatly missed.”

Chanock is perhaps best known for his discoveries of disease-causing viruses, most notably human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the most common cause of serious lower respiratory tract disease in infants and children worldwide, and the four parainfluenza viruses, which include the most common cause of severe croup in infants. He isolated new strains of rhinovirus and coronavirus (causes of the common cold) and helped to develop an FDA-approved vaccine for the respiratory pathogen adenovirus that proved 100-percent effective in preventing disease among U.S. military recruits. He also proved that the disease known as walking pneumonia was caused not by a virus, but by a bacterium that could be treated with an antibiotic.

“When I first was learning about infectious diseases in medical school and residency,” Fauci noted, “Bob’s papers and chapters popped up everywhere; the name ‘Chanock’ seemed synonymous with disease discovery.”

Perhaps rivaling his success as an individual investigator, Chanock’s accomplishments as chief of LID, in a tenure spanning more than three decades, show that he was an inspiring and engaging leader to younger scientists. Dr. Albert Z. Kapikian, an LID senior investigator noted for his discovery of the Norwalk virus, a major cause of acute gastroenteritis, credits Chanock as one of the three individuals with the greatest influence on his own career at NIH. He says Chanock’s “creativity, enthusiasm and leadership…kept the LID in a prominent position for over 30 years.”

At the helm of LID, Chanock was involved in research that led to the first nasal spray influenza vaccine and to an FDA-approved antibody to prevent RSV disease in high-risk infants. He established studies that led to the development and licensure of vaccines for hepatitis A and rotavirus and launched an ambitious program for developing vaccines against dengue fever. Candidate vaccines from the dengue program are now in clinical trials.

Among his many honors, Chanock was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences. He received the Infectious Diseases Society of America Joseph E. Smadel Medal, the E. Mead Johnson Award for research in pediatrics, the Robert Koch Medal, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Infectious Disease Research and the Albert B. Sabin Gold Medal for exemplary research in the field of vaccinology. He also received the Public Health Service Meritorious Service Medal and Distinguished Service Medal.

Dr. Robert W. “Bobby” Brown, academic cardiologist, former New York Yankee all-star and former president of Major League Baseball’s American League, once wrote in a personal letter to Chanock, “Victories occur in all segments of life, but research victories that enhance health are the greatest of all. In the endless fight against disease you truly have been a champion of champions.”

Chanock is survived by his son Stephen, a senior investigator at NCI, and four grandchildren. His legacy of academic and scientific achievement, especially in the field of pediatric respiratory disease research, continues to inspire his colleagues at NIH and beyond.

Bell, NIA Intramural Chemist, Dies

Jane M. Bell

Jane M. Bell, a long-time NIA employee and Bethesda resident, died July 17 at age 76. She was a chemist in the brain physiology and metabolism section (BPMS) in NIA’s intramural research program.

Born in France, Bell received her B.A. degree from Trinity College and began her career as an NCI chemist in June 1955. She joined the National Heart Institute in 1961, leaving federal service in 1967. She returned to the government in 1982, working in the NIA Laboratory of Neurosciences under the leadership of Dr. Stanley Rapoport.

“Members of the BPMS and the NIA will miss her greatly,” said Rapoport. “She was a warm and wonderful person.”

During her 40-year NIH career, Bell was instrumental in providing a supportive work environment for employees. In 1992, she was a founding member of the NIA IRP human relations committee. In 2005, she was elected to represent BPMS on the committee and served until her death.

Dr. Michele Evans, acting NIA scientific director, said, “When I served as the first NIA woman scientist advisor, it was Jane who worked closely with me to organize NIA IRP women scientists and technical staff on the Bethesda campus so there would be an open channel of communication about women’s issues at NIH and NIA. She will be missed.”

Bell is survived by two daughters, a son and five grandchildren.

NCI Alumnus Wollman Mourned

Dr. Seymour H. “Sy” Wollman, 92, one of the first scientists to arrive at the then-new NIH campus in the late 1940’s, died on June 6 after a prolonged illness.

Trained as a physicist at Johns Hopkins and Duke universities, and with Dr. Leonor Michaelis, he came to the Laboratory of Physiology, NCI, in 1948. He spent his long and productive scientific career on numerous aspects of thyroid gland function until his retirement in 1985. In the mid-1960s, he was head of the cancer physiology section at NCI.

He brought a rigorous and quantitative approach to the new area of iodine metabolism, often in collaboration with Dr. Robert Scow in the early years. Wollman developed an international reputation and later had numerous coworkers from Sweden (where he also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Göteborg), Belgium and Italy.

His interest gradually shifted to histochemistry and the cellular organization of the thyroid follicle and its contents. He focused on the location in the follicle of the synthesis of the thyroid hormone and its precursor protein, thyroglobulin, on the remarkable inhomogeneity among thyroid follicles, as well as on the crucial role of thyroid vasculature in iodine kinetics.

Always self-effacing and reticent, he was a patient explainer, but nevertheless persisted for however much time and effort it took to get things right rather than just publishing his findings, said Dr. Jan Wolff of NIDDK. “He was, and is, highly respected in his field,” said Wolff. “His work has stood the test of time and has become the basis of many textbook sections or paragraphs.”

Wollman’s wife, Tete, died several years before him. He is survived by his daughter Susan and his son Arnold, who cared for him during his long illness.

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