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Vol. LXV, No. 1
January 4, 2013
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‘Imaginative Research…from Conception to Old Age’
NICHD Celebrates 50 Years of ‘Research for a Lifetime’

On the front page...

NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher gestures toward a slide showing President John F. Kennedy on Oct. 17, 1962, the day JFK signed legistation creating the child health institute.

NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher gestures toward a slide showing President John F. Kennedy on Oct. 17, 1962, the day JFK signed legistation creating the child health institute.

What do you get when you take a noble idea, add a determined advocate and combine with a persistent pediatrician? On Oct. 17, 1962, that formula became NIH’s ninth institute, or what we now know as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Recently, NICHD celebrated “Research for a Lifetime,” a 50th anniversary colloquium held in Masur Auditorium.

“We gather here on this special day to celebrate 50 years and to think about where the next 50 might take us,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. “It is indeed an exhilarating moment to see that potential. The science that NIH has the potential to support right now across the board—but particularly in the areas that NICHD has responsibility for—has never been more exciting, more full of promise. Whether we’re talking about the basic science of human development or the much more applied research and translation that includes not only children’s health but also women’s health and rehabilitation, the opportunities now are breathtaking.”

Continued...

NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher said a similar feeling of promise must have infused President John F. Kennedy when he wrote his hopes for the bill creating the institute: “‘This legislation will encourage imaginative research into the complex processes of human development from conception to old age.’ NICHD has done that and much more.”

‘Rebellious’ Roots

As Collins explained, the institute did not start with unanimous support. In fact, Dr. James Shannon, NIH director at the time, was not enthusiastic about the proposal to fund child health research. He, like many others at the time, held with conventional wisdom—and science back then—that children were a mostly disease-free population that did not need to be studied.

It was Johns Hopkins pediatrician Dr. Robert Cooke, along with fierce advocate Shriver, who met with top congressional leaders, beating back every criticism, framing every counter-argument and ultimately pushing NICHD into existence.

Showing “Camp Shriver” photos from the early 1960s of his boyhood backyard overrun with laughing, frolicking children of all ages and races—most with some intellectual disability—guest speaker Dr. Timothy Shriver said such pre-NICHD images forecast an entity that bucked convention from its conception. That entity now carries his mom’s name.

Joining Guttmacher (r) in celebrating 50 years of “Research for a Lifetime” are (from l) NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, NICHD deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox, Dr. Constantine Stratakis, NICHD scientific director, and Dr. Catherine Spong, institute associate director for extramural science. Showing “Camp Shriver” photos from the early 1960s, guest speaker Dr. Timothy Shriver said such pre-NICHD images forecast an entity that bucked convention from its conception.

Joining Guttmacher (r) in celebrating 50 years of “Research for a Lifetime” are (from l) NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, NICHD deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox, Dr. Constantine Stratakis, NICHD scientific director, and Dr. Catherine Spong, institute associate director for extramural science.

Showing “Camp Shriver” photos from the early 1960s, guest speaker Dr. Timothy Shriver said such pre-NICHD images forecast an entity that bucked convention from its conception.

Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson

“Your roots are rebellious,” declared Shriver, who serves as Special Olympics chair and CEO.

Remarkable Past, Unlimited Potential

Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster joins Collins in a duet of Happy Birthday, eventually visiting children’s units of the Clinical Center and the Children’s Inn.

Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster joins Collins in a duet of Happy Birthday, eventually visiting children’s units of the Clinical Center and the Children’s Inn. Sesame Workshop vice president Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, a former NICHD advisory committee member, also spoke at the colloquium.

The audience also heard from another pediatrician, one who worked at NICHD for nearly half its existence—most of those 25 years as its leader. Former NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander summarized the institute’s significant research accomplishments.

In a nutshell: From the development of home pregnancy tests to the enormously successful Back-to-Sleep Campaign, from standardization of newborn screenings to virtual elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission, NICHD-supported science has been at the forefront of nearly every major advance in children’s health in the last half century.

Over that time, infant death rates have dropped by more than 70 percent and NICHD has funded nine Nobel Prize winners.

“NICHD has made an enormous contribution to children in this country and to medicine in general,” said Cooke, in a one-on-one videotaped conversation with Guttmacher. “What you do for the child seems to make an enormous difference in his life.”

Young Isaac Barchus is delighted by Cookie Monster

Young Isaac Barchus is delighted by Cookie Monster.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, commended NICHD on its longtime commitment to science and, specifically, to scientists. He said researchers can multiply the institute’s investment in them by helping to mentor and provide meaningful experiences for the next generation of researchers.

In explaining why this is essential, Hrabowski noted, “What is it that scientists do in the world? We have shown the world that humankind can have an eternal spring of hope through science. All things are possible.”

Humble Beginnings

Guttmacher marveled that the seeds for NICHD’s remarkable progress actually were planted by a small task force appointed by President-elect Kennedy in December 1960. Cooke, a member of that task force, recalled that the team agreed unanimously about a need for an NIH institute dedicated to children’s health research. A key advisor to the President, Ted Sorenson, concurred. So with support from the President, Cooke and Eunice Kennedy Shriver took their case to Capitol Hill. They met with Sen. Lister Hill and Rep. John Fogarty, among other lawmakers, to press for NICHD. In less than a year, President Kennedy signed the legislation establishing the institute.

In addition to reflections about early NICHD, the anniversary event also gathered nearly two dozen presenters and panelists to participate in an all-day think tank (see sidebar). The day concluded with a special visit by Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, who joined Collins in a duet of Happy Birthday. The muppet eventually made his rounds to children’s units of the Clinical Center and the Children’s Inn.

The entire event is archived at http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?17704.

Colloquium Highlights Lifespan Science

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, NICHD gathered nearly two dozen principal investigators and academicians—some former NIH’ers, some grantees, some Nobel Prize winners—to discuss the current state and future of human development research in three segments: Healthy Beginnings; Beyond Childhood: Promoting the Health of Women, Families and Individuals with Disabilities; and the Next 50 Years: Advancing Science, Improving Lives.

NICHD deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox introduced the discussion: “I hope today will be a true colloquium—‘co,’ meaning ‘together’…‘loquium,’ meaning ‘to talk.’ Throughout the day, I hope we can all be encouraged to talk together about the brilliant science we at NIH have all had a chance to experience.”

Highlights from the research presentations:

  • Grantee and Nobelist Dr. Eric Wieschaus of HHMI and Princeton, discussing molecular mechanisms that govern development of the embryo into a complex organism, said NICHD was a pioneer in his field.

    Many investigators early on, he explained, had not fully anticipated the extent to which insights gained from studying developmental genes in model organisms such as flies, worms and frogs would help us understand how such genes work in a developing human.

    “NICHD was one of the first institutes to really take advantage of that insight in that it had a tradition from the very early days of supporting research in basic developmental biology,” Wieschaus explained.

  • Nobel laureate Dr. James Heckman of the University of Chicago reviewed dramatic changes over the past 50 years in thinking about individuals’ capabilities. It used to be that a person’s capacity to flourish was defined largely by IQ, he said. Today, there is more complicated understanding of the ways cognition, personality traits and character skills contribute to a person’s success.

  • In addition, Dr. Ralph Brinster of the University of Pennsylvania discussed the mammalian germline; Dr. David Barker of Oregon Health and Science University talked about preventing chronic disease by improving human development; Dr. Neal Halfon of the University of California, Los Angeles, presented “Integration of Research, Health Care and Policy”; and Dr. Geeta Swamy of Duke University addressed the challenge of preterm birth.

  • Former NICHD scientist and clinical director Dr. Lynn Loriaux discussed several leading figures who established the institute’s intramural research program. Their work led to development of the pregnancy test and the first oral contraceptive.

  • Panel discusses culture change and the practice of science.

    Panel discusses culture change and the practice of science.

    Dr. William Crowley of Harvard Medical School recounted 36 years of NICHD-funded bedside-to-bench activities.

  • Dr. Carolyn Westhoff of Columbia University offered a comparison of available contraceptive methods in 1962 and 2012, providing a stark reminder of how much the field has changed.

  • The past 50 years have also seen a sea change in the perception of research on rehabilitation, including technologies and clinical trials. Dr. Michael Selzer of Temple University School of Medicine reviewed challenges and opportunities in research on repairing, replacing and restoring neural function in disability, either from birth or as a result of disease or injury.

  • Dr. Teresa Woodruff of Northwestern University spoke of her nationally recognized Saturday training program in which Chicago high school juniors and seniors learn about both basic research and clinical practice in the context of studying how to preserve the fertility of young cancer patients.

  • Finally, a panel chaired by Dr. Linda Giudice of the University of San Francisco addressed culture change in the practice of science. Panelists included former NIH deputy director for extramural research and former deputy director of NICHD Dr. Wendy Baldwin, now of the Population Reference Bureau, Dr. Joan Reede of Harvard University and former NICHD scientific director Dr. Arthur Levine of the University of Pittsburgh.


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