CSR’s Dhindsa Retires After 36+ Years at NIH
By Paula Whitacre
|Dr. Dharam Dhindsa
Dr. Dharam Dhindsa has a motto: “What you can do tomorrow, do today. What you can do today, do now.” Putting that motto into action took him from a farm in India’s Punjab province, through graduate work and an academic career in the United States to 36½ years of service at NIH. He retired recently as deputy chief of the surgical sciences, biomedical imaging and bioengineering integrated review group (IRG) in the Center for Scientific Review.
As a boy, Dhindsa studied by kerosene lamp alongside his cousins and two brothers. His father sat nearby, making sure the young people stayed on task. “My father did not have formal schooling, but he understood the value of education,” he said. “He would tell us that land can always be divided, but you can never divide an education.”
After earning a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Punjab University and working for the government of India, Dhindsa was encouraged to further his studies in the U.S. He received his M.S. from Montana State University and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He focused on increasing livestock reproduction through such means as in vitro fertilization—research that presaged advances for humans.
He and his family went on to Oregon, where he was a postdoc at the University of Oregon Medical Center and, from 1971 to 1975, chaired the department of animal science at the Oregon Zoology Research Center. In 1975, he came to NIH, hired by Dr. Stephen Schiaffino as executive secretary (scientific review officer) for a study section on reproductive biology. In 1992, he moved to a surgery, radiology and bioengineering study section; he became the IRG deputy chief in 2004 under chief Eileen Bradley. From 1984 to 2004, he also served as a referral officer, assigning grant applications to the appropriate peer review group.
“He always said if one of us fails, we all fail, and if one of us succeeds, we all succeed,” said Bradley. Dogged and tough with coworkers, reviewers and especially himself, Dhindsa, she said, also consistently asked about ailing family members, children’s milestones or other aspects of life, offering to help however he could.
While in Oregon, Dhindsa received three NIH grants, but recalled, “When I was ‘outside,’ the grant process seemed like a black box. So I pledged to explain what I could when I came to NIH.”
Over the years, many universities and professional societies invited him to present on the NIH peer review process. “I liked getting junior scientists together without senior scientists, so they would feel more comfortable asking questions,” he said. In 1999, he went to Montana for a peer review workshop, his first return since graduate school. “I spent 1½ days, going from meeting to meeting,” he said. “My voice was completely gone by the end, but it was a pleasure.”
Bradley commented on Dhindsa’s deep respect and concern for the peer review process. “He would remind us that the health of the nation depended on us getting peer review right,” she said. “He had his eye on the end game.”
Dhindsa has written more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, organized 6 workshops on emerging areas of science related to his study sections and frequently returns to India to work on livestock improvement and other projects. Among his many awards and other recognition, both within and outside NIH, he is especially proud of being elected a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 2004.
Just as Dhindsa’s father encouraged him and his brothers, he is proud of his family. Two sons are physicians and one is a lawyer; they are also active community volunteers.
That motto about doing things now has served Dhindsa—and NIH—well.
Six New Members Join NINDS Council
The National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council recently welcomed six new members.
Dr. Ben A. Barres is chair of the neurobiology department at Stanford University School of Medicine and a past chair and evaluator for the NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards. His research focuses on the interaction between neurons and glial cells in the nervous system.
Dr. Robert B. Darnell is the Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn professor of cancer biology at Rockefeller University, where he also directs science programs at the university’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research. He pioneered new methods to study RNA regulation in the brain and is an expert on rare neurological disorders triggered by an immune response to common cancers.
Dr. Sharon E. Hesterlee is senior director of research and advocacy at the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. Her area of expertise includes translational research and brokering public-private research collaborations to develop drug treatments for neuromuscular diseases.
Dr. Eve Esther Marder is the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University and head of the university’s division of science. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she has conducted seminal studies of motor pattern generation, neuromodulation and use of the dynamic clamp.
Dr. Robert Enrico Pacifici is chief scientific officer of CHDI Management, Inc./CHDI Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit drug discovery organization that supports international research on novel therapies for Huntington’s disease. He also chairs the NINDS Spinal Muscular Atrophy Project steering committee.
Dr. Amita Sehgal is the John Herr Musser professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, where she is co-director of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. She is also a member of the Institute of Medicine and an expert in research on the molecular and genetic components of circadian rhythms and sleep.