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Vol. LXIV, No. 2
January 20, 2012

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NINDSís Hirtz Receives CNS Award

Dr. Deborah Hirtz

The Child Neurology Society (CNS) recently honored Dr. Deborah Hirtz, a program director in the NINDS Office of Clinical Research, with the 2011 Hower Award, which recognizes a pediatric neurologist who has made a significant contribution to the field and has greatly contributed to the understanding of childhood neurological disorders through research, teaching and leadership.  

Hirtz was honored for the profound impact she has had on child neurology, neuroscience and the welfare of children. The CNS meeting program mentioned several examples of her contributions, including her most highly cited publication (232 citations)—a report on the NINDS workshop on perinatal and childhood stroke. The report “built a fire” that continues to fuel the effort to make childhood stroke as preventable and treatable as some forms of adult stroke have become.

Hirtz has been instrumental in developing many evidence-based practice guidelines for neurologists. Also noted was Hirtz’s mentorship of clinical investigators, as well as her ability to organize clinical studies that have an impact on practice.

According to CNS, “It is very clear that Dr. Hirtz’s efforts have played an extraordinary role in organizing, guiding and financing the substantial improvement in the quality of both the clinical and scientific enterprises of child neurology.”

The Hower Award is one of the major international honors in pediatric neurology. It was established in 1974. In addition to her work at NINDS, Hirtz also has been a clinical consultant in child neurology to the Montgomery County Children’s Specialty Services.

Online Branch’s Rodrigues Retires after 35 Years
By Rich McManus

Dennis Rodrigues
Dennis Rodrigues

Dennis Rodrigues, chief of the Online Information Branch in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, OD (translation: he has been chiefly responsible for the NIH home page virtually since its inception) retired Dec. 2 after 35 years at NIH. His career slalomed down the face of arguably the two largest waves in modern NIH history—the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the technological revolution that ushered in common use of desktop computers and the Internet.

A native of Baltimore who earned an undergraduate degree in biology at Towson University, Rodrigues began his association with NIH as a contractor in 1972, taking advantage of NCI’s ramped-up reliance on contractors as the “War on Cancer” got under way. He spent 4 years at Litton Bionetics in Rockville before joining the Laboratory of Cell Biology, NCI, under the leadership of Dr. Lloyd Law.

After 4 years as a technician in that lab, during which he learned about advances in immunotherapy, he joined the NIH Management Intern Program, a year-long training experience that included four rotational assignments.

“I really liked doing lab work, but unfortunately you could only go so far as a lab tech,” he remembers. He was tempted to earn a Ph.D., and took some graduate science courses at FAES and the University of Maryland, chiefly in immunology. But with his first child newly born, he opted for a more secure career as a federal employee.

During his MI year, he discovered that he “really liked working in areas outside the lab.” His last rotation, in the old Office of Program Planning and Evaluation in Bldg. 1, exposed him to high-level policymaking at NIH. “I got to know a lot about NIH and how it worked,” he said.

In the early 1980s, word processing machines predominated as the successor to the typewriter at NIH. Frustrated with having to compile trans-NIH reports from a variety of incompatible machines, Rodrigues employed the old WYLBUR mainframe as a “text-file dump” for consolidation of material. That was his introduction to computers.

“I was around when PCs were introduced to the workplace,” he remembers.

Because of his knowledge of immunology, he began handling inquiries to NIH on a newly discovered disease affecting gay men. “I became heavily involved with NIH’s response to AIDS from a Bldg. 1 perspective,” he recalls.

Rodrigues joined the Office of AIDS Research at a time when the office grew dramatically as NIH responded to the worldwide epidemic. Later he joined the Office of NIH History, mainly to participate in a project documenting NIH’s response to the AIDS epidemic.

Back then, the history office was part of NIH’s communications office, which at the time was grappling with how to use the nascent Internet as a communications platform. Rodrigues’ interest in electronic bulletin boards as a hobby meshed with NIH’s need to adopt the new technology.

“It was a happy circumstance,” he recalls. “I was the right person to be there at the right time.”

Rodrigues can trace the origins of NIH’s home page from the scientific challenge it once was for programmers at the old Division of Computer Research and Technology in 1993, through its Gopher era, “which was like the web, but did not include photos—it was a text-based hyperlink system,” to the first version of Mosaic, which was among the first browsers to debut on the World Wide Web.

“I became the resident go-to person on how we can use computers as communications tools,” remembers Rodrigues, who by around 2000 found himself chief of a new online branch. “I didn’t start off my career wanting to run NIH’s web site, because the web itself did not yet exist.”

NIH hosted some of the first federal web sites, and many campus experts were among the first to promote the adoption of the World Wide Web. “We had some real pioneers here,” Rodrigues said.

Cooperating with colleagues from across campus, Rodrigues “helped decide what content to put on the early servers administered by DCRT.” He participated on many committees and work groups that guided the design and information architecture for NIH’s web site.

His biggest achievements? “Maintaining the overall quality of NIH’s presence on the web,” he said. “We’ve always gotten high marks from others who have looked at it. I am also proud to have encouraged the NIH community at large to strive for excellence. We’ve brought in speakers, conducted knowledge exchanges and engaged in community-building with the ICs. We’ve also adopted metrics tools and analysis, so we’re not just speculating about how to make [the NIH site] better.”

Rodrigues’ boss, NIH Associate Director for Communications and Public Liaison John Burklow, said Rodrigues was a campus authority on web matters. “People from across NIH came to him, wisely, for sage advice,” he said. Burklow’s deputy, Dr. Marin Allen, said Rodrigues was highly respected and had a gift for collegiality, not only with fellow NIH’ers but also with HHS.

Rodrigues says he leaves reluctantly. “NIH has been an amazing place to work,” he said. “I’ve had such a good group to work with and NIH is an energizing, fun place to be, with all these amazing intellects. That’s probably the hardest thing to step away from. It’s a great work environment.”

He says he’ll also miss the NIH Fitness Center. “I am proud of my membership. It’s a really valuable resource and helped keep me mentally fresh and alert. It’s nice to be able to practice what you preach.”

Rodrigues plans to take some time off and then pursue opportunities in the private sector and consulting work in 2012.

Seven NIH’ers Named AAAS Fellows

Dr. Chuxia Deng, Dr. Marjorie Robert-Guroff Dr. Dolph Lee Hatfield Dr. James Melvin, Dr.

New fellows are (clockwise from above)

Dr. Chuxia Deng, Dr. Marjorie Robert-Guroff, Dr. Dolph Lee Hatfield, Dr. James Melvin, Dr. Mary Wolpert-DeFilippes, Dr. Caroline Philpott and Dr. Larry Akio Nagahara.

Mary Wolpert-DeFilippes Dr. Caroline Philpott Dr. Larry Akio Nagahara

Seven NIH scientists are among 539 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently named as AAAS fellows. These individuals will be recognized for their contributions to science and technology at the Fellows Forum to be held Feb. 18 during the AAAS annual meeting in Vancouver. The new fellows will receive a certificate and a blue and gold rosette as a symbol of their distinguished accomplishments.

From the section on biological sciences: Dr. Chuxia Deng, senior investigator and chief, mammalian genetics section, Genetics of Development and Disease Branch, NIDDK; Dr. Dolph Lee Hatfield, chief, molecular biology of selenium section, Laboratory of Cancer Prevention, NCI; Dr. Caroline C. Philpott, chief, genetics and metabolism section, Liver Diseases Branch, NIDDK.

From the section on dentistry: Dr. James E. Melvin, clinical director, NIDCR.

From the section on engineering: Dr. Larry Akio Nagahara, acting director, Office of Physical Sciences-Oncology, NCI.

From the section on medical sciences: Dr. Marjorie Robert-Guroff, senior investigator and chief, section on immune biology of retroviral infection, Vaccine Branch, NCI.

From the section on pharmaceutical sciences: Dr. Mary K. Wolpert-DeFilippes, chief, Grants and Contracts Operations Branch, NCI.

NINDS Welcomes New Council Members

NINDS Welcomes New Council Members
NINDS director Dr. Story Landis (third from l) welcomes advisory council members (from l) Dr. Kevin St. P. McNaught, Dr. David D. Ginty, Paul H. Gross, Dr. David M. Holtzman and Dr. Ben A. Barres.

Four new members have joined the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council, which serves as the principal advisory body to NINDS regarding the institute’s research program planning and priorities.

Dr. David D. Ginty is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He has made important contributions to understanding the assembly and function of the nerves and circuits underlying the sense of touch.

Paul H. Gross is chairman of the board and acting director of technology for the Hydrocephalus Association, a nonprofit organization that seeks to stimulate innovative research on hydrocephalus and to support people affected by the condition.

Dr. David M. Holtzman is the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones professor and chairman of the department of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and associate director of the university’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. He has conducted groundbreaking studies on Alzheimer’s disease and hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.

Dr. Kevin St. P. McNaught is vice president for medical and scientific programs at the Tourette Syndrome Association. He guides the nonprofit association’s development, implementation and management of medical, scientific and therapeutics research and forges collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry.  

In addition, Dr. Ben A. Barres, who earlier this year had accepted an interim appointment to the advisory council, has been reappointed to serve a complete 4-year term. He is chair of the neurobiology department at Stanford University School of Medicine and focuses on the interaction between neurons and glial cells in the nervous system.

Hilda Dixon

McGowan Receives Distinguished Service Award

The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) recently awarded the Shirley Hohl Distinguished Service Award to Dr. Joan McGowan (l), director of NIAMS’s Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases. The honor is given annually to an individual “whose activities best represent the dedicated and unselfish devotion in service to the society and its mission and goals as exemplified by Shirley Hohl, the ASBMR’s founding executive secretary.” McGowan, who accepted her award at the society’s annual meeting in San Diego, was recognized for having made significant contributions to ASBMR’s mission. Highlighted were her pivotal roles in the NIH Consensus Development Conference on Osteoporosis Prevention, Diagnosis and Therapy; the NIH Women’s Health Initiative; and the Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis.


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