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Vol. LXIII, No. 19
September 16, 2011

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Stratakis Named NICHD Intramural Director

Dr. Constantine Stratakis is the new NICHD scientific director.

Dr. Constantine Stratakis is the new NICHD scientific director.

Dr. Constantine Stratakis has been named scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at NICHD. He had served as acting scientific director since June 2009.

“Dr. Stratakis brings extensive research experience and a broad clinical background to the position,” said NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher. “While there were an impressively large number of extremely well qualified applicants for this position, it was clear that—even apart from his outstanding performance as acting scientific director—Dr. Stratakis was the candidate best suited to lead the intramural program over the coming years.”

Stratakis will oversee the research programs of 85 scientific investigators and more than 300 trainees. NICHD’s DIR is made up of 11 research programs with approximately 79 units and sections. DIR’s objective is to ensure the birth of healthy infants, to ensure the health of infants and children as they develop into adulthood and to optimize the health of women. Research focuses on acquiring information to enhance understanding of the full range of human development and reproduction.

“I am humbled to have been chosen to lead one of the largest, most distinguished, of the NIH’s intramural programs, but I am also looking forward to it,” Stratakis said. “I have already served in an acting capacity for more than 2 years, but every day I discover new things at NICHD and feel great admiration for the variety and strength of the research taking place within the division.”

A native of Greece, Stratakis received his M.D. and D.Sc. degrees from the University of Athens. He trained at the Hospital Cochin in Paris, France, before coming to NICHD, first as a student, then as a visiting research associate and then as a research fellow. He completed his pediatrics residency, as well as fellowships in pediatric endocrinology and clinical genetics, at Georgetown University.

In 1996, he returned to NICHD as a senior fellow, was promoted to staff scientist in 1997 and appointed tenure-track investigator in 1998.

Stratakis is well known for the identification and characterization of the gene for Carney complex, a disorder that increases the risk for benign tumors of the heart and adrenal glands. In subsequent work, he deciphered the genetic underpinnings of a number of other endocrine disorders, among them primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease, a rare disease affecting the adrenal glands, as well as a class of disorders causing overgrowth of the adrenal glands (bilateral adrenocortical hyperplasias).

Stratakis is director of NICHD’s Program in Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics. Within that program, he heads the section on genetics and endocrinology. Stratakis and his colleagues in the section focus on tumors and other abnormalities of the endocrine glands. Recent studies by his group have determined that variations in a particular gene appear to increase the risk for tumors of the adrenal glands, testes and prostate. Other recent work by the group has identified variations in a gene for a part of the enzyme succinate dehydrogenase as leading to rare tumors of the digestive tract, called gastrointestinal stromal tumors.

In previous work, he and his mentor and friend J. Aidan Carney showed that abnormalities in genes for other parts of the succinate dehydrogenase molecule underlie the rare, tumor-causing disorder later named for the two scientists, Carney Stratakis syndrome.

Stratakis has written or co-written more than 300 publications and received numerous awards, including the Ernst Oppenheimer Award, one of the highest honors for scientists in the field of endocrine research.

Regarding his work at NICHD, as well as other aspects of his life, Stratakis said he’s often guided by a quotation by Albert Einstein.

“‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle,’” quoted Stratakis. “I am honored to have been chosen to lead the NICHD Intramural Division. The accomplishments of the institute are nothing short of miraculous.”

Since its establishment, he noted, NICHD has supported or conducted research that greatly reduced the infant death rate, reduced the transmission of HIV from mother to child and nearly eliminated intellectual disability from such causes as Haemophilus influenza type B, congenital hypothyroidism and the genetic disorder phenylketonuria. In addition, he said NICHD-funded work has advanced reading research, improved knowledge of learning disabilities and improved drug safety tasting for children and pregnant women.

Former NICHD Center Director Yaffe Dies

Dr. Sumner J. Yaffe

Dr. Sumner J. Yaffe, a former center director at NICHD, has passed away.

Yaffe began his tenure as director of NICHD’s Center for Research for Mothers and Children in 1980, a position he held until his retirement 20 years later. His research career focused on the role of drug-metabolizing enzymes in nutrition and drug metabolism in the developing fetus, bilirubin metabolism and the secretion of drugs in breast milk. He wrote or co-wrote numerous scientific articles and several books. Two of his works are considered landmark pharmacological references, Drugs in Lactation (with Gerald G. Briggs and Roger K. Freeman) and Pediatric Pharmacology (with Jacob V. Aranda).

“Sumner Yaffe was a good friend to his NICHD colleagues and a patient mentor to many young scientists and administrators,” said NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher. “His knowledge of pediatric pharmacology was instrumental in establishing a research network that met the crucial need for the thorough evaluation of drugs before they are used in children.”

Under Yaffe’s leadership, the Center for Research for Mothers and Children established the Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units Network in 1994. The network’s mission was to conduct studies of how drugs previously approved for use in adults affect children. Because of their smaller size and faster metabolism than adults, and because they are still developing, children may react differently to many drugs than do adults. Similarly, children may require different doses of a drug than do adults, even when their smaller size is taken into consideration.

The network provided a research infrastructure for the clinical trials needed to conduct the necessary testing for drugs to ensure their suitability in children.

Yaffe was born in Boston and attended Harvard College before leaving to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II. After his military service, he returned to Harvard to earn a B.A. in chemistry, and later, an M.A. in pharmacology. He received his M.D. degree from the University of Vermont and completed his training in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Boston. In 1963, he was appointed professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1975, he moved to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he established the division of pediatric clinical pharmacology.

His tenure here also saw the establishment of NICHD’s Neonatal Research Network and Maternal Fetal Medicine Network. After his retirement, Yaffe remained active , serving as an advisor to the institute and in collaborative efforts with pediatric researchers.

Campus Fitness Icon Snoy Mourned

Dr. Phil Snoy (r) was a fixture at campus running events for decades, including the 2008 NIH Institute Relay, where he volunteered along with (from l) Dr. Alison Wichman, Randy Schools, then NIH principal deputy director Dr. Raynard Kington, and longtime running partner Jerry Moore.

Dr. Phil Snoy (r) was a fixture at campus running events for decades, including the 2008 NIH Institute Relay, where he volunteered along with (from l) Dr. Alison Wichman, Randy Schools, then NIH principal deputy director Dr. Raynard Kington, and longtime running partner Jerry Moore.

Dr. Phil Snoy, 59, who was virtually a daily sight as a midday runner on the NIH campus and in nearby Bethesda for the last few decades, died Aug. 15.

Though the NIH campus was his training ground, Snoy was employed by the Food and Drug Administration, where he directed the Division of Veterinary Services. He attended Colorado State University and received his D.V.M. from the University of Illinois Veterinary School. He was board-certified in pathology.

“Phil Snoy was a friend, a leader with the NIH running community and our trusted advisor for the NIH Institute Relay,” said Randy Schools, president of the NIH Recreation & Welfare Association. “Phil was one of the Health’s Angels [campus running club] leadership team and, for over 27 years, was part of the team that brought joy to the relay.” This year’s relay, on Sept. 22, will be held in his honor.

“If you know Phil, he brought his smile to our many runs,” Schools continued. “He brought his dedication to fitness through his running and cycling and, more than anything, he brought his friendship.”

“It’s an incredibly sad day for me and all those at FDA and NIH who knew Phil Snoy,” said Jerry Moore, another original Health’s Angel, now with the Office of the NIH Director. “I’ve known Phil as a friend, a fellow runner in the NIH Health’s Angels Running Club, a teammate and a lunchtime running buddy for many years—decades in fact. We ran together for many years and with other friends at lunchtime through Rock Creek Park in all kinds of weather and in all seasons of the year.

“He was a great person, very friendly, very kind, always happy with a big smile on his face, always positive—and loved by everyone who knew him including me,” Moore continued. “I can’t think of a nicer guy than Phil.”

Snoy’s athletic achievements were documented in the NIH Record on multiple occasions over the years as he participated in triathlons, cycling events (including Bike to Work Day—he pedaled in from Poolesville), sailing and equestrian activities.

Survivors include his wife, Dr. Francie Dougherty; daughter, Julia Victoria Snoy; three sisters and his parents, of Machesney Park, Ill. The family suggests that memorials take the form of contributions to the Parent Encouragement Program, 10100 Connecticut Ave., Kensington, MD 20895; Coronado Performing Arts Center, 314 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61101; or to the Newark Boys Chorus School, 1016 Broad St., Newark, NJ 07102.

PAN Honors NINDS’s Landis

Dr. Sumner J. Yaffe

NINDS director Dr. Story Landis recently received the 2011 Morris K. Udall Award for Public Service from the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN). One of two Udall Award recipients, Landis was recognized for having made important contributions to public policy.

“You will find no greater champion of Parkinson’s disease research at the NIH than Story Landis,” said Amy Comstock Rick, PAN chief executive officer. “It is an honor to work with her on a wide range of issues surrounding biomedical research, particularly her thoughtful and thorough approach in working with the scientific community in pursuit of ways to accelerate the development of more effective diagnostics, measures and therapeutics.”

PAN, a grassroots education and advocacy organization, focuses on health care policy issues that affect the Parkinson’s community. Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive neurological disease that results from degeneration and premature loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Dopamine is a brain chemical that controls motor function.

The award is named for the late former congressman Udall, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1979 and died in 1988.

“I am so honored to be given the Udall Award for Public Service because this is a community that is close to my heart,” said Landis. “Parkinson’s research is important not just to people with the disease but to the broader research community. The things we learn in one field of study have the potential to shed light on other areas of research, and we want to keep moving forward toward finding a cure.”— Shannon E. Garnett

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