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Vol. LXIII, No. 13
June 24, 2011

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Chemist, Mentor, Musician
NIGMS’s Schwab Retires
By Erin Fults

Dr. John Schwab
Dr. John Schwab

Over the past 15 years, Dr. John Schwab has been more than a program director. He has been a mentor, a communicator and—in his non-work time—a musician. He hopes that after his retirement, the chemistry initiatives he spearheaded will continue to foster the field.

During his tenure in the NIGMS Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry, Schwab says, “I’ve benefitted from having more of an overview of science and more influence over the course of science than I did as an individual faculty member and NIGMS grantee.”

That perspective enabled him early on to spot some disturbing trends in chemistry—the number of grants was dropping, the average age of grantees was increasing and the number of early stage investigators was declining significantly.

He explained his findings to established researchers, who worked to reverse the trends. To further nurture the talents of young scientists, Schwab established a mentoring workshop for junior chemistry faculty that has been well received. The workshops easily fill up each year. “It’s been very rewarding. I feel like I have been able to make a difference in the community,” said Schwab.

“John brought a deep understanding of the chemical community and its potential to contribute to the NIH mission,” said NIGMS director Dr. Jeremy Berg. “He was particularly passionate about developing the careers of young chemists and created programs that helped early stage investigators learn how to shape their research programs to increase their likelihood of success, both in general and within the NIH funding system.”

Another focus of Schwab’s has been promoting good science through collaboration. In 2002, for example, he helped launch the Centers of Excellence in Chemical Methodologies and Library Development. He has also communicated effectively about NIH-funded chemistry research to a range of audiences and was recognized with an inaugural NIGMS Outstanding Communicator Award in 2005.

Before joining NIGMS to manage grants in synthetic organic chemistry, Schwab served as a review chemist at FDA. He earned a B.S. from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in bioorganic chemistry from Brandeis University. After conducting postdoctoral research at Harvard University, Schwab was a faculty member for 16 years at Catholic University and Purdue University.

When he takes off his scientific hat, Schwab enters a very different venue. He plays guitar in two old-time music bands—the Mostly Mountain Boys and the Hoover Uprights. In February 2011, the Mostly Mountain Boys performed as the headliner band at a music festival in Gainsborough, England. The Hoover Uprights have twice won first place in the traditional band contest at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop, W.Va.

Schwab’s involvement in music transcends his own playing. He is working on an instructional book and CD/DVD project to teach back-up guitar. He is also involved in a volunteer organization called the Field Recorders Collective, which uncovers field or home recordings by traditional musicians and makes them available on CD, shedding light on important, often underappreciated musicians from past generations.

Retirement will offer him more time for musical pursuits and travel.

Despite the pleasures of music and traveling, he knows he’ll miss the numerous bonds he’s formed and the daily interactions he’s had with the scientific community. The feeling is clearly mutual. After he announced his retirement, he received a hefty pile of appreciative emails from grantees in his portfolio.

“John has been a strong and effective advocate and administrator for support of organic chemistry and has articulated the importance of chemistry to the mission of NIH,” said Dr. Michael Rogers, director of the Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry. “He has had a substantial impact on advancing research and is leaving very large shoes to fill for his successor.”  

But Schwab isn’t exiting the science stage completely. He’ll remain in the D.C. area and intends to stay involved in the mentoring workshops. “It will be great to continue to interact with and help the development of the scientific community,” he said.

Swartz Named Director of CSR Division

Dr. Karyl Swartz

Dr. Karyl Swartz now leads the Division of AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences at the Center for Scientific Review. She came to CSR from the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, where she was associate program director and a researcher.

“Dr. Swartz brings to CSR an incredible breadth of experience managing scientists and scientific programs in academia and beyond,” said CSR director Dr. Toni Scarpa. “And she brings a dynamic ability to develop positive relations with a large and diverse constituency and workforce.”

In her new post, Swartz coordinates five integrated review groups, which review grant applications for scientific merit.

While at the Great Ape Trust, she also was a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park as well as an affiliate professor of anthropology at Iowa State University.

Swartz previously served as a professor and chair of the psychology department at Lehman College, City University of New York. Her research has focused on cognition in non-human primates; specifically, learning, memory and perception by macaque monkeys and orangutans and cognitive factors in mirror self-recognition by great apes.

Swartz earned her Ph.D. in psychology from Brown University. She did postdoctoral research at the Regional Primate Research Center at the University of Washington and then conducted research with gorillas and chimpanzees at the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville, Gabon, Africa.

NCI’s Helman Honored With Pediatric Oncology Award

Dr. Lee Helman
Dr. Lee Helman, scientific director for clinical research, Center for Cancer Research, NCI, has received the 2011 Pediatric Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) for his scientific achievements in the field of pediatric oncology. During ASCO’s annual meeting, he gave his award lecture titled “Pathways to New Targets for Pediatric Sarcomas.”

Helman’s research focuses on three major themes related to the biology and treatment of pediatric sarcomas, specifically rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma and osteosarcoma. His laboratory studies IGF signaling, trying to identify mechanisms of acquired resistance and to identify patients who are likely to respond to IGF-1 receptor antibodies; investigates the molecular/biochemical determinants of the biology of these sarcomas; and uses the insights gained in clinical trials of novel therapies.

“This award is a wonderful acknowledgement by my peers that my work is considered valuable to the field,” Helman said. “All science is by nature collaborative, so this honor also goes to my colleagues and many postdoctoral fellows and students.”

During his years at NCI, Helman has made many important contributions to understanding the role of IGF signaling in pediatric tumors. He also identified ezrin as a key regulator of metastases in osteosarcoma.

Helman began his fellowship training at NCI in 1983, where he has remained. He became head of the molecular oncology section of the Pediatric Oncology Branch in 1993, and chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch in 1997. He was also named a deputy director of the Center for Cancer Research in 2001. He served as acting scientific director for clinical research, Center for Cancer Research in 2005 and was named permanent scientific director in 2007.

In addition to his position at NCI, Helman is a member of the board of directors of and clinical advisor to the Children’s Inn at NIH. He is a past member of the board of governors of the Clinical Center and was a founding member of the Connective Tissue Oncology Society.

NICHD Councils Gains Five Members
Dr. Lee Helman
NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher (l) and deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox (r) recently welcomed five new members to the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council. They include (from l) Dr. Kimberly Leslie, professor and chair, department of OBGYN, University of Iowa; Dr. Jere Behrman, professor, department of economics, University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Richard Greenwald, president and founder, Simbex LLC, Lebanon, N.H.; Dr. Frances E. Jensen, professor and director, department of neurology at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Not shown is Dr. Renee R. Jenkins, professor and chair emeritus, department of pediatrics and child health, Howard University College of Medicine.

Daniels, Milgram Win AWIS Mentoring Awards

Dr. Sharon L. Milgram (l) and Dr. Susan A. Daniels (r) accept mentorship awards from AWIS Bethesda award chair Pat Connelly.
Dr. Sharon L. Milgram (l) and Dr. Susan A. Daniels (r) accept mentorship awards from AWIS Bethesda award chair Pat Connelly.

Dr. Susan A. Daniels and Dr. Sharon L. Milgram recently received the Award for Excellence in Mentoring, an honor presented annually by the Bethesda chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). The award recognizes men or women who have made significant contributions in mentoring to young scientists.

Daniels, a member of AWIS Bethesda, whose background is in molecular and cell biology moved into science administration and is currently acting director of the Office of Autism Research Coordination at the National Institute of Mental Health. In her nomination letter, she was described as a person who provides guidance and insight, who listens and is supportive and above all who cares about her mentee’s personal and professional development.

Milgram, a senior investigator at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and an adjunct investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute, joined AWIS while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her growing interest in student training and mentoring led her to apply for and accept a position as the first director of the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education. In that post, she oversees a trans-NIH component dedicated to the career advancement of more than 5,000 trainees, ranging from college students to postdoctoral and clinical fellows.

The NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, the Office of Community Liaison and the National Library of Medicine support AWIS Bethesda. For information about the organization, visit

NINR’s Saligan Wins Nursing Research Award

Dr. Leorey Saligan

Dr. Leorey Saligan, deputy clinical director of NINR’s Intramural Research Program, recently received the 2011 Rear Admiral Faye G. Abdellah Award for Nursing Research. The award recognizes publications by civilian nurses and nurse officers within HHS or from tribal nurses that stimulate the development of nursing knowledge and practice through research. Saligan received the award for his article, “Quality of life in sarcoidosis: comparing the impact of ocular and non-ocular involvement of the disease,” which appeared in the August 2010 issue of the journal Ophthalmic Epidemiology.

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory condition of unknown cause that can affect almost every organ in the body including the eyes (ocular sarcoidosis), which can lead to the development of cataracts, secondary glaucoma or inflammation of the structures of the eye (uveitis). There is limited information about the quality of life of individuals with ocular sarcoidosis. Saligan’s research found that the vision changes associated with ocular sarcoidosis can decrease both vision-related and overall quality of life; this effect is greater for patients of lower income. This study was conducted while Saligan was a nurse practitioner for NEI, where he helped develop the sarcoidosis clinic.

Pinn Honored by Tufts University

Dr. Leorey Saligan Dr. Leorey Saligan
Dr. Leorey Saligan
Tufts University School of Medicine recently honored Dr. Vivian Pinn, director of NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health, for her commitment to the school and its students by dedicating the Office of Student Affairs, on the 4th floor of the Sackler Bldg., in her honor and by launching a scholarship fund in her name. Pinn was also awarded the Dean’s Medal of Honor, TUSM’s highest honor, from Dean Harris Berman (shown above). The medal, rarely conferred, is given to people whose service to the school and medical careers have enhanced TUSM’s national standing. Pinn served as associate professor of pathology, as well as assistant dean for student affairs, in the 1970s and early 1980s. During her 12-year tenure at Tufts she was a role model of mentorship. She also played a pivotal part in recruiting students of color and in expanding financial aid. To read more about Pinn’s recognition, visit

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