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Vol. LXV, No. 2
January 18, 2013

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NIDDK Epidemiologist Eggers Retires
By Anne Wright

It’s no surprise that Dr. Paul Eggers has become synonymous with the U.S. Renal Data System (USRDS). The NIDDK epidemiologist has devoted most of his public service career to developing and refining what has become the most well-known and respected kidney disease registry in the world.

Eggers, who worked at the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) for 22 years before joining NIDDK in 2000, will ease into retirement this month. Though he will no longer manage his grants portfolio, he will continue to serve as part-time program director for the USRDS and the Urologic Diseases in America Compendium, the urology equivalent of the USRDS.

“Paul is at the heart of the USRDS and his efforts on behalf of the registry have truly been a labor of love,” said NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers. “We are fortunate that he will continue to lend his knowledge and expertise to the research community after he formally retires.”

The USRDS, a joint project of NIDDK and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), formerly HCFA, began in 1987. The registry produces an annual data report summarizing the incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality and costs of end-stage renal disease (ESRD). CMS and Congress are especially interested in this data because Medicare has been covering people of any age with ESRD since 1972. The registry also provides access to data sets for kidney research scientists.

“Dr. Eggers is a national treasure,” said Dr. Robert Star, director of NIDDK’s Division of Kidney, Urologic and Hematologic Diseases. “In his 35-plus years of national service, he ensured the integrity of each and every data point in USRDS, supported scientists with innovative analyses and spotted emerging trends. He was completely dedicated to producing the best science that would improve the health of patients with kidney disease.”
Dr. Paul Eggers and his wife Anne toasted to “good times” during a recent trip to Ireland.
Dr. Paul Eggers and his wife Anne toasted to “good times” during a recent trip to Ireland.

“A large number of nephrologists use the USRDS to identify helpful and harmful trends in dialysis and transplant populations, which helps physicians deliver better patient care and investigators plan research efforts,” said Dr. Paul Kimmel, director of the Acute Kidney Injury Program, Kidney Translational Genetics Program and Kidney HIV Program at NIDDK. “The USRDS also produced data showing disparities across geographic areas, which can be used to establish best practices in caring for patients with ESRD.”

As the nation’s “premiere expert” of ESRD data, Eggers has served as a global resource for all nephrologists and mentor to hundreds of investigators who use the USRDS as a research tool, according to Dr. Chris Ketchum, NIDDK’s deputy director for basic renal physiology and diabetic nephropathy programs. “His paradigm-shifting early studies and speaker presentations have spawned a fertile, large new research field for nephrologists. Over his illustrious career, there is little question that Dr. Eggers’ commitment to federal service has made an enormous impact on our understanding of kidney disease and the nation’s public health,” said Ketchum.

Eggers has been instrumental in showing that acute kidney injury is a key risk factor for chronic kidney disease and that frequent hemodialysis affected intermediate medical outcomes and patient perceptions of quality of life. The author or co-author of nearly 120 journal articles, his earliest papers outlined key outcomes in the ESRD program and documented disparities in hemodialysis survival and access to kidney transplantation.

“Dr. Eggers’ early work showed less access to transplantation among minority groups with ESRD—a situation clinicians and policymakers have been struggling to rectify over the past 20 or more years,” added Kimmel. “His work on amputation in the ESRD program has been followed by a decrease in the complication rate in diabetic ESRD patients in the U.S.”

Eggers’ research contributions extend beyond kidney disease as well, according to Marian Gornick, Eggers’ former supervisor at HCFA, now retired. One example is his design of a system for coding medical services, known as Berenson-Eggers Type of Service, which HCFA, other federal agencies and private organizations adopted. Another was his co-authorship of a major study of disparities in Medicare services use titled “Effects of Race and Income on Mortality and Use of Services among Medicare Beneficiaries,” which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996.

“Dr. Eggers was known for his leadership, encouragement and support of his staff,” said Gornick. “He perhaps was the most respected and admired branch chief in the [HCFA] Office of Research.”

Though Eggers will not fully relinquish his desk job, he looks forward to spending more time outdoors. “My wife, Anne, and I are really big on national parks and rural adventures,” he said. “We are going to try to devote more time to that.”

A self-described World War II enthusiast, Eggers also is anticipating having more time to make a dent in his ever-growing reading list. “There’s always a new book coming out about World War II,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve compiled dozens of books I want to read.”

In addition, he looks forward to donning a brand new role—that of first-time grandfather.

“After 36 years of doing essentially the same thing, it’s hard not to define yourself to a great extent by what you do,” said Eggers. “I hope part-time work will be a good segue into full-time retirement.”

NIGMS’s Anderson Finds Balance, Adventure in Retirement
By Alisa Zapp Machalek

One of Dr. Jim Anderson’s goals in retirement is to pay more attention to his dog Nicky, who he says “always wakes up happy.”
One of Dr. Jim Anderson’s goals in retirement is to pay more attention to his dog Nicky, who he says “always wakes up happy.”

Flow like a river, stay rooted like a mountain. That t’ai chi concept of life balancehas long guided NIGMS’s Dr. James J. “Jim” Anderson. Now that he’s retired, Anderson finds himself flowing into new—and sometimes surprising—opportunities while remaining rooted in his lifelong interests.

Trained as a microbial geneticist, Anderson came to NIGMS in 1990 after working in the biotech industry for 10 years. At NIGMS, he managed an extramural grant portfolio in gene regulation in the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. The portfolio included investigations of diverse microbial communities (microbiomes) that are integral to human health; studies of bacterial communication; and research on prions, infectious protein particles that can cause fatal neurological diseases.

During Anderson’s 22-year career at NIGMS, he witnessed a growing scientific understanding of how organisms tune their genes to address changes in their environments. On one especially memorable day, he recalls reading a progress report in which Dr. Andrew Fire “almost casually” described his observation that double-stranded RNA can silence genes. Anderson was stunned by the significance of the finding. He immediately called Fire to congratulate him and discuss the work’s implications. A scant 9 years later, Fire shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of RNA interference.

In addition to advising individual grantees, Anderson worked more broadly to shape the direction of research.

“Jim always stood out as a person with creative and forward-looking ideas, which he championed and often brought to fruition,” said Dr. Judith Greenberg, acting NIGMS director and long-time director of Anderson’s division.

Examples include the creation of the E. coli K-12 model organism resource, a comprehensive online repository of information about a bacterium studied by many researchers (including Anderson).

He also developed some of the institute’s earliest programs to support systems-level modeling and computational biology. He describes the emergence of these fields as “the reincarnation of physiology, with the added punch of genomics and advanced analytical technologies.”

NIGMS-funded researchers and others now routinely use computationally driven approaches to organize and analyze vast amounts of data, generating models with a range of applications, from predicting the effects of medications on cellular systems (and, potentially, on human physiology) to indicating the impact of public health interventions on the spread of infectious diseases.

NIGMS colleagues remember Anderson as the microbiome guru, the resident plant champ (an advocate for research on plant model systems and a connoisseur of home-grown figs and paw paw fruit), a bicycle commuter and the volunteer instructor of t’ai chi classes.

Anderson sees retirement as “a marvelous open road” and looks forward to exploring wherever it leads. He plans to do more cycling, traveling (including visits to his extended and far-flung family), gardening and concert-going with his wife, Janet.

On a recent visit to NIH, he said retirement has already brought with it a number of surprises, like revealing his skill and passion for fine carpentry, a growing appreciation for the harmonica and requests for him to speak on the relationship of science and religion.

Anderson referred to his time at NIH as “a front-row seat for the most exciting show on Earth—the unfolding of human creativity and discovery in biomedical science.” From the sounds of it, he’s now producing and starring in his own show.

APAO Presents Annual Awards

APAO Presents Annual Awards

The NIH Asian and Pacific Islander American Organization (APAO) held its annual awards ceremony recently. Debra Chew (l), director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, gave the keynote speech at the ceremony. APAO vice president Dr. Eric Zhou (r) and Dr. Rashmi Gopal-Srivastava (second from r), chairman of APAO award committee, presented the scientific achievement awards to Dr. Wanjun Chen (third from r) of NIDCR and Dr. Vinay K. Pathak (second from l) of NCI and the Leadership Excellence Award to Dr. Francisco S. Sy (third from l) of NIMHD.

Photo: Ruby Lee

NINDS Mourns Retired Scientist Webster

Dr. Henry “Harry” de Forest Webster,

Dr. Henry “Harry” de Forest Webster, retired chief of the NINDS Laboratory of Experimental Neuropathology, died at home in Cockeysville, Md. on Nov. 16, 2012.

Webster received his M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School and trained in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. After serving on the faculty at Harvard and the University of Miami medical schools, he was recruited to NIH in 1969 as chief of the section on cellular neuropathology at NINCDS (now NINDS). Webster was appointed chief of the Laboratory of Experimental Neuropathology in 1984 and held that position until 1997, when he became scientist emeritus. He continued to serve as a scientific mentor until his departure in 2009, taking a particular interest in the careers of women scientists.

During his career, Webster published many papers and received numerous awards and honors including the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Senior U.S. Scientist Award, to do research in Germany with German scientists, and the American Association of Neuropathologists’ Meritorious Contributions to Neuropathology Award in 2001.

Webster began his scientific research when electron microscopy was first applied to the nervous system. He quickly became a master of the technique, using it to show how the myelin sheath forms and how it is disrupted in disease. Among his discoveries was a growth factor that could limit immune cells from entering the brain and attacking the glial cells that make myelin. His work advanced knowledge of the autoimmune basis of multiple sclerosis and contributed to the development of a variety of approaches to dampen the immune system to treat multiple sclerosis.

One of his most lasting contributions was the compilation of electron micrographs in The Fine Structure of the Nervous System, which he co-authored with Drs. Alan Peter and Sandy Palay. “Many generations of graduate students, including myself, viewed this as an essential reference,” said NINDS director Dr. Story Landis.

Outside the laboratory, Webster applied his considerable darkroom skills—gained through electron microscopy—to photography, particularly of natural landscapes. He exhibited them at shows and often gave his prints as gifts. His colleagues noted that he had an excellent sense of humor and would often play the devil’s advocate. “His quirky sense of humor and often contrarian viewpoint made many of us in Bldg. 36 pleased when we ran into Harry in the hallways,” said Dr. Brian Andrews. “He would go off on some topic out of left field, but nonetheless interesting. These were great conversations.”

Webster’s wife of more than 60 years, Marion Havas Webster, died in 2012. Their survivors include 5 children and 6 grandchildren.—Shannon E. Garnett

NIDDK Scientist Emeritus Burton Dies at 93

NIDDK’s Dr. Benjamin Burton in 1978 He conducts research earlier in his NIH career.
NIDDK’s Dr. Benjamin Burton in 1978

He conducts research earlier in his NIH career.

Photos Courtesy Audrey Solnit

Dr. Benjamin T. Burton, 93, who retired as NIDDK associate director for disease prevention and technology transfer and was named scientist emeritus in 1995, died Dec. 22, 2012. He had Alzheimer’s disease.

At NIH for more than 34 years, Burton helped develop protein supplements to fight malnutrition in developing countries and played a major role in developing new technology for kidney dialysis. His textbook Human Nutrition has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.

Born in Germany, Burton was reared in what is now Israel. He came to the United States to study at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. in 1947.

In 1960, Burton joined NIH and began studying kwashiorkor, or protein-deficiency malnutrition. By 1965, he and his colleagues were working on kidney dialysis, developing workable and clinically effective artificial kidneys and methods for treating end-stage renal disease.

In 1995, he retired from NIH but not from science, noting, “I retired because it’s decent to leave at 75, but I don’t intend to stop what I’ve been doing. My goal is to continue doing something useful.”

His daughter, Audrey Solnit, said he was true to his word. “Ben Burton loved NIH and continued to go to his office there 3 or 4 times a week until 2003,” she said. “If Alzheimer’s hadn’t stolen my father’s ability to drive to NIH and find his scientist emeritus office, he probably would have died at his NIH desk at 93.”

In addition to Solnit, who lives in Morris, Conn., Burton is survived by son David Burton of Altadena, Calif., and 4 grandchildren.

Congressional Staffers Tour NIAMS Labs

Congressional Staffers Tour NIAMS Labs

Eight senior-level congressional staffers recently toured laboratories of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The group represented both Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, including members of NIH’s authorization and appropriations committees. The visit was organized by the NIAMS Coalition, an independent group of more than 70 professional and voluntary organizations concerned with NIAMS programs, to help build awareness on Capitol Hill about research advances in NIH labs that are leading to significant improvements for patients. NIAMS leaders and scientists (shown above with the Hill staffers) gave overviews of NIH and described breakthroughs in translational research. They emphasized the possibilities for discoveries, the importance of maintaining a pipeline of research scientists and the value of partnerships among government, private industry and professional and patient groups. “This is an exciting place to be,” said NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz. “There has been a deluge of discoveries and the opportunities for translational research are unprecedented.”

Photo: Bill Branson

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