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Vol. LXIII, No. 17
August 19, 2011

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NCI Scientist Honored for Life-Saving Invention

Dr. Frank Gonzalez of NCI

Above, Dr. Frank Gonzalez of NCI and (below, from l) Mojdeh Bahar and Dr. Betty Tong of NIH’s Office of Technology Transfer recently received tech transfer awards.

Dr. Frank Gonzalez, chief of the Laboratory of Metabolism in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR), and Dr. Pedro Fernandez-Salguero, a former CCR fellow who is now a professor in Spain, received the 2011 Federal Laboratory Consortium National Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer for developing and transferring a life-saving diagnostic test to the marketplace.

Mojdeh Bahar and Dr. Betty Tong of NIH’s Office of Technology Transfer were also recognized for their contribution to the successful transfer of this technology to a number of licensees. The award recognizes those who have done an outstanding job in transferring technology developed in a federal laboratory to partners in the private sector.

Gonzalez and Fernandez-Salguero were recognized for their work on the development of a diagnostic test to identify those patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment with 5-FU who may have a toxic reaction to the drug. They determined the molecular basis for 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-linked toxicity. They discovered a splicing mutation in the dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase (DPD) gene, which is normally involved in the degradation of the drug. Patients’ sensitivity to 5-FU is directly correlated with a mutated DPD gene and low DPD activity levels, resulting in the accumulation of 5-FU in the body.
Mojdeh Bahar Dr. Betty Tong

Before administering the 5-FU, it is now possible to screen patients for a mutation that puts them at risk for life-threatening toxicity. The test has been nonexclusively licensed to several companies in Europe and the United States.

In the U.S. alone, more than 1,300 patients die each year as a result of 5-FU toxicity. “As a result of these multiple licenses,” noted Gonzalez, “many patients around the world can avoid being treated by a drug that may prove to do them more harm than good.”

NIH Commissioned Officers Honored During National Symposium
Awardees Cdr. Paul Jung (l) and Capt. Lydia Soto-Torres (r) stand with guest speaker Radm. Epifanio Elizondo, chief professional officer of the health services category and HHS regional health administrator for region VI.

Awardees Cdr. Paul Jung (l) and Capt. Lydia Soto-Torres (r) stand with guest speaker Radm. Epifanio Elizondo, chief professional officer of the health services category and HHS regional health administrator for region VI.

Photo: David Lau

NIAID medical officer Capt. Lydia Soto-Torres and NIEHS chief of staff Cdr. Paul Jung received awards during the 2011 Public Health Service Scientific and Training Symposium, held recently in New Orleans. The symposium is an annual meeting hosted by the Commissioned Officers Foundation that brings together public health experts and PHS officers from around the country and world. The theme for 2011 was “Public Health Leadership: The Key to a Healthier Nation.” The awards were among 10 presented at the Minority Officers Liaison Council Awards Ceremony.

Soto-Torres received the Juan Carlos Finlay Award for career dedication and leadership in the development of programs and services that improved access and health services for Hispanics and other minorities. As a medical officer in the Division of AIDS, Soto-Torres serves as research liaison for the Caribbean and Latin America, advocating for an increase of scientific research in Latin America. She advocates for Hispanic representation in clinical HIV prevention trials so that proven HIV prevention modalities may be accessible to at-risk populations. During her professional career of almost 33 years, her commitment to the health of the Hispanic community is exemplified through various roles such as special assistant for minority and women’s health (1992-1993) in the Office of the Surgeon General, where she was instrumental in coordinating the first Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS to be written in Spanish.

Jung was awarded the Samuel Lin Senior Officer Award for exceptional contributions by a senior officer to the mission of PHS and to the Asian Pacific American community. The award recognizes his work in helping to start the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association and serving on its physician advisory board for more than a decade. Jung’s prior assignments include details to the House energy and commerce committee and the Peace Corps.

Grantee’s Protégé Honored for Project

Prarthana Dalal

Prarthana Dalal, a summer student in the lab of NIDDK grantee Dr. Kenneth Peterson, University of Kansas Medical Center, has won the International BioGENEius Challenge, a competition for high school students who demonstrate an exemplary understanding of biotechnology through science research projects. Her winning project looked at hemoglobin genetics and how sequence changes can affect fetal hemoglobin production in mouse models, knowledge that can be used to improve treatment for sickle cell disease. Dalal’s work was funded by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Summer Student Experience award.

RML’s Peacock Mourned

Marius Peacock

NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories lost a humble and hard-working scientist on June 16 when Marius Peacock passed away at age 79.

For 45 years—from 1962 to 2008—Peacock was employed at RML in various roles. Along the way he worked with some of the most prominent figures in RML history—Richard Ormsbee, J.C. Williams and Jack Munoz among them—and helped train and mentor some of today’s scientific leaders at RML.

Known as Mort to friends and colleagues, Peacock spent most of his career working with Rickettsia, the genus of bacteria that causes diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Coxiella burnetii, which causes Q fever. In 1997, a new species of bacterium that he had isolated from wood ticks was named after him, Rickettsia peacockii.

Many colleagues considered Peacock a world expert in isolating and cultivating Rickettsia and Coxiella because of his vast knowledge and skilled techniques.

“Mort had incredible hands in the lab, and his ability to accomplish technically challenging procedures was renowned,” said RML’s Dr. Robert Heinzen. “He had a sixth sense in working with these difficult bacteria.” Heinzen learned from Peacock both as a postdoc from 1991-1996 and then while overseeing his own lab starting in 2003.

During his career, Peacock isolated many strains of Rick­ettsia from natural sources such as infected tissue and established pure stocks that scientists still use today in research projects. He also was instrumental in develop­ing many research techniques and tests still in use.

“Mort was a gentle and modest man who was always willing to help out or share his expertise,” said RML’s Dr. Ted Hackstadt. “He supported several scientists and trained many postdoctoral fellows and techni­cians.” Hackstadt lured Peacock out of a brief retire­ment in 1990, hiring him to work on Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Colleagues also recalled Peacock’s love of the outdoors and enthusiasm to help plan hiking trips.

“If you were going to be lost in the woods, Mort was the person you wanted to be with,” said RML’s Dr. Marshall Bloom. “He was just as skilled in the outdoors as he was in the lab.”

Peacock, a Missoula native, received degrees from the University of Montana in 1959 in bacteriology and in 1960 in microbiology and public health. During his career, he published more than 60 scientific articles. He also was elected as an honorary member of the American Society for Rickettsial Diseases.—Ken Pekoc

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