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Vol. LXIV, No. 10
May 11, 2012
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Milestones

Rodgers Elected to American Academy of Arts And Sciences

photo of Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers

What do NIDDK director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, singer/songwriter Sir Paul McCartney and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have in common? All are new members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Rodgers, selected for research leading to the first effective therapy for sickle cell disease, is the only new member from NIH. The academy announced 220 new members, including some of the world’s most accomplished scientists, scholars, writers, artists and business leaders, who will be inducted Oct. 6.

The AAAS is one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies and a leading center for independent policy research. Current members include more than 250 Nobel laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Rodgers led research showing that the drug hydroxyurea boosts fetal and total hemoglobin, alleviating anemia, pain and other debilitating symptoms of sickle cell. More recently, he and collaborators found that a modified blood stem-cell transplant regimen reverses sickle cell disease in adults. Rodgers adds this academy honor to a long list, including his 2009 induction into the Institute of Medicine and the 2000 Arthur S. Flemming Award.

NIGMS’s Jones Hangs Up Many of His ‘Hats’
By Emily Carlson
After 32 years of service to NIGMS, NIH and the scientific community, Dr. Warren Jones left behind his lunch bag—and a host of scientific legacies—in March to pursue his favorite hobbies.
After 32 years of service to NIGMS, NIH and the scientific community, Dr. Warren Jones left behind his lunch bag—and a host of scientific legacies—in March to pursue his favorite hobbies.

Despite the unseasonably warm temperature and sunshine, the NIGMS lunch crowd outside was thin—just Drs. Warren Jones and Ward Smith, two program directors from different parts of the institute. In 30 minutes, the two reminisced about their early days as students in chemistry labs, updated each other on news from their divisions and talked about Jones’ retirement plans.

For decades, Jones has lunched with his NIGMS friends. “I have no expectations for who will be there or what we’ll talk about,” he said. “I just know that I’ll learn something new about my colleagues. I’ll really miss that when I retire.”

After 32 years of service to NIGMS, NIH and the scientific community, Jones left behind his lunch bag—and a host of scientific legacies—in March to pursue his favorite hobbies. He said he’ll be lucky to find time each week to play tennis, read, garden, bird-watch and volunteer. In between, he hopes to see the northern lights in Norway and meet some of the creatures of Madagascar.

While at NIGMS, Jones wore many hats, each important, according to his colleagues.

Scientific Advocate

As a program director who worked with grantees to monitor their projects and encourage their progress, Jones had a big impact on enzymology—the study of proteins that speed up cellular reactions. He convened special workshops to identify challenges in the field and implemented new funding opportunities to address those challenges.

With his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and postdoctoral training by prominent chemists, Jones knew the science. And with 6 years of experience as a faculty member in the chemistry department at the University of Virginia, he was also attuned to the needs of the academic community. This background made him widely recognized and appreciated by enzymology researchers, said Dr. Michael Rogers, director of the NIGMS Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC).

“Warren came to epitomize the field of enzymology because he has been so supportive and influenced so many generations of enzymologists, including myself,” added NIGMS colleague and former grantee Dr. Barbara Gerratana.

“I’m proud to have served the scientific community as they interacted with NIH,” Jones said, “and I’ve enabled people to do good science.”

Policy Developer

Others say that Jones had a big impact on establishing new funding policies. As the NIGMS director’s special assistant for legislative affairs, he was responsible for tracking and informing institute staff of relevant issues. He honed his legislative expertise by spending a year working on Capitol Hill as a legislative fellow and 6 months working in the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation.

Among the policies he spearheaded was one on tuition reimbursement designed to slow the loss of student training positions due to rapid tuition cost increases. He also developed a funding guideline that flags applications from well-funded laboratories for additional review by the NIGMS advisory council. In February, NIH announced plans to implement an approach similar to the NIGMS one.

“Both of these policies were controversial when they were instituted, but over time the scientific community has recognized their benefits,” said Dr. Judith Greenberg, the institute’s acting director and Jones’ colleague for nearly 30 years.

In 2007, Jones led a scientific community-based assessment of the Protein Structure Initiative, a program in which NIGMS had invested $580 million over 7 years to facilitate the determination of protein structures.

“This assessment was an opportunity for evaluation and solid solutions for moving forward with the program to best meet the needs of the scientific community,” explained Jones.

Mentor

As chief of the PPBC Biochemistry and Biorelated Chemistry Branch since 1994, Jones hired a number of program directors. He is proud of their accomplishments, but they may be even prouder to have had him as a mentor.

“I personally appreciate his work with me, his help understanding the job and his encouragement to succeed,” said Dr. Peter Preusch, whom Jones hired in 1992 and who now is a branch chief in another NIGMS division.

As part of an NIGMS tradition, Preusch wrote humorous poetry about his former boss that he read at Jones’ retirement party.

“People may think work parties are trivial,” said Jones speaking of his own farewell, “but they’re part of the framework that holds us together. Just like the lunches, they give us all a chance to get to know each other better and ultimately make our professional interactions easier.”

Jones added, “It’s hard to leave, but I am looking forward to my new opportunities.”

So with retirement, he exchanged his many work hats for a tennis visor, a birding fedora and a beret to wear when visiting his family in France. Beyond his hobbies, he said, “I’m just happy not having anything in particular that I need to do.”

Retired Science Writer Bennett Mourned

Barbara
“Bobbi” Bennett

Science writer Barbara “Bobbi” Bennett, 70, who retired in late 2002 after a 39-year career at NIH, died Apr. 18 after a brief illness.

Bennett arrived at NIH in 1963 with a B.A. in chemistry from Immaculata College in her native Pennsylvania. She spent 11 years as a lab technician, first at the Clinical Center’s blood bank and then at NCI’s immunology branch. She then became a science writer for the last 28 years of her NIH career.

“I had reached an invisible ceiling in the lab, beyond which you could go no further without an advanced degree,” she recalled, in an NIH Record retirement story. Having been editor of both her high school and college newspapers, Bennett was hired by NIAID’s information office as a writer.

She left NIH briefly in 1979 to work at what was then the National Bureau of Standards, then returned to a writing job at the then National Institute of Dental Research. After a year at NIDR, she joined the main NIH communications office in Bldg. 1, where she spent most of the rest of her career.

In the 1980s, Bennett organized a series of science writers seminars, designed to acquaint reporters with NIH scientific issues and expertise. Helping her select topics and speakers was Dr. Alan Schechter, chief of the Molecular Medicine Branch, NIDDK, who recalls, “[Bobbi] was particularly skilled in presenting scientific and medical advances to the press in a balanced, objective manner. Representatives of the major media clearly valued these events.”

Bennett served briefly as an information official in the nascent human genome office in OD, and eventually rose to chief of the Science Communications Branch in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison. In 1996, she launched a consumer health publication that is still published today and distributed nationwide.

She once said of her NIH career, “I always felt this was a great place to work because we’re helping people. My greatest satisfaction has been helping people and their loved ones with health problems. That’s something we must never forget. It’s why we’re here.”

Survivors include her husband, Herbert Stanton Bennett; a niece, Catherine Yohe, and two nephews, Martin Plocinik and Christopher Plocinik; and many other family and friends.

Contributions in Bennett’s memory can be made to So Others Might Eat, 71 O St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 or to St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, 9601 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, MD 20814.

NIAID’s Mercer Dies

Stephanie Mercer

Stephanie Mercer, a support assistant with NIAID’s Division of AIDS (DAIDS), passed away unexpectedly on Apr. 1 at her home in Bethesda. She was 28 years old.

Mercer was born and largely raised in Biloxi, Miss., before moving to Forsyth, Ga., with her family in 1996. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 2001 and earned dual bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from Wesleyan College in 2006.

In 2008, Mercer joined NIAID to work in the office responsible for overseeing policy and management for grants and contracts within DAIDS. She provided administrative support for the division’s Therapeutic Research and Basic Sciences Programs.

“Stephanie was a very dedicated employee who took advantage of every opportunity to learn more,” said Terri Holmes, Mercer’s supervisor. “Not only was she interested in learning about her position, she was interested in the people and how things worked here at NIH.”

At the time of her death, Mercer had nearly completed her M.B.A. at Marylhurst University near Portland, Ore., and was slated to graduate in June. Known for her compassion and willingness to serve, Mercer planned to join the Peace Corps and begin a career in legal justice.

“Stephanie was a vibrant person with many interests and goals,” said Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of DAIDS. “She was valued in the office not only for her outstanding work, but for her friendly, outgoing manner. When someone so young, with so many dreams, dies, the loss is very deeply felt. Her smile and stories will be greatly missed.”

Mercer is survived by her parents, David and Annette (Handler) Mercer; sister, Jessica Mercer; brothers, David Mercer II and Dwayne Mercer; and grandparents, Mickey and Tootie Mercer, Donna Kay Handler and Dixie Schankin.—Tasheema Prince


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