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Vol. LXV, No. 20
September 27, 2013

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Rockey Wins Carrabino Award for Research Administrators
By Manju Subramanya

Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research, recently won the Joseph A. Carrabino Award from the National Council of University Research Administrators.

Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research, recently won the Joseph A. Carrabino Award from the National Council of University Research Administrators.

Photo: Elise Rabin

For universities submitting grant applications to federal agencies, variations in grants policy can cause major headaches, noted Dr. Carol Blum, director of research compliance and administration at the Council of Governmental Relations, an association of research universities.

So Blum is appreciative of the work being done by Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research. “She has worked really hard to make sure agencies have a common approach,” said Blum, who nominated Rockey for the Joseph A. Carrabino Award.

The award, from the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA), recognizes a federal partner who has made a significant contribution to research administration.

“@NCURA today, honored to receive Joseph Carrabino award—excellence in university/government relations,” a delighted Rockey tweeted at the awards luncheon in Washington D.C., recently.

Rockey leads the NIH Office of Extramural Research, which sets grants policy, ensures compliance and integrity, electronically processes grants and is responsible for stewardship of the NIH research grant portfolio. With over 80 percent of NIH’s $30.9 billion annual budget going towards funding medical research worldwide through grants, OER has a major responsibility.

Rockey has the difficult task of balancing the mission of NIH and the concerns of the biomedical research enterprise at large. “You have to be quick on your feet, pay attention to both sides and come to solutions that will benefit both the federal government and the research community,” she noted.

Rockey has had a hand in major fed-wide efforts to streamline research administration—through, for example, the proposal for a single researcher profile with SciENcv and an effort to bring all information on awarded grants together so that university partners can find it through Star Metrics.

She has won high praise for her work co-chairing the A-21 task force that recommended ways to the Office of Management and Budget to reduce burdens and costs for academic research.

“Sally is a tireless and enthusiastic leader, with the superb capability of balancing the interest of the federal government for accountability and the interest of academia for simplicity,” noted Gil Tran, an OMB senior technical manager, in his nomination of Rockey.

Rockey’s current focus includes the biomedical workforce initiative, looking at the pipeline of researchers and examining training programs.

She has also won kudos for engaging with the research community through her blog Rock Talk. “What a buzz about her blog,” Blum said. “It is the kind of engagement with the community that has done more for NIH in terms of reputation in research administration than anything else.”

Rockey’s love of biology came from her mother, a teacher who loved the outdoors and painting landscapes. Rockey received a Ph.D. in entomology from Ohio State University and then took a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, running an entomology competitive grants program. She soon climbed the ladder, leading the extramural competitive grants program and even spending her last couple of years at the agency as chief information officer.

With 19 years at USDA and the Presidential Rank Award in 2004, Rockey was recruited by NIH in 2005 as deputy director of OER and assumed the top job in 2008.

Rockey is married to Sam Stribling, an environmental consultant. Their son, Jimmy, is studying at Savannah College of Art & Design. Rockey is also an avid bridge player, book club participant, a gym regular and can be spotted at almost every local Bruce Springsteen concert (50 and counting), singing along until she is hoarse.

“Springsteen? I’m not surprised. Like him, she is there working for the little folks,” Blum said with a chuckle.

NHLBI Mourns Loss Of Vascular Science Expert Skarlatos

Dr. Sonia I. Skarlatos

Dr. Sonia I. Skarlatos, deputy director of the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, passed away on Aug. 6 at age 59.

During her 20-year career with NHLBI, Skarlatos became a distinguished national and international leader in vascular science. She helped develop several gene and cell therapy programs and was one of NIH’s most respected leaders in advancing an agenda to support translational research. In 2012, she was awarded the inaugural Distinguished Service honor from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy.

“For many of us, Sonia was a role model as a selfless, dedicated public servant,” said NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons. “She was highly esteemed by colleagues throughout our internal community and the greater extramural community. Sonia will be remembered for her innumerable contributions to the health of the nation as well as for her thoughtful and caring personality.”

Skarlatos earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, followed by her Ph.D. in physiology from Pennsylvania State University.

She joined NHLBI in 1985 as a senior staff fellow in the section of experimental atherosclerosis. In 1992, she became a health science administrator in the Vascular Biology Program, launching a gene therapy data safety and monitoring board and coordinating gene therapy research across NHLBI. She then served as acting director of the cardiovascular division before becoming its deputy director in 2004.

Skarlatos’s concern about the gap between discovery and clinical testing led her to establish the Science Moving Towards Research Translation and Therapy Program, which assists with the translation of new synthetic, natural or biologic treatments for heart, lung and blood diseases from the scientific community to the clinic. She also managed the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network, which promotes and accelerates the evaluation of new cell therapy treatment strategies for people with cardiovascular disease.

Skarlatos published numerous influential papers throughout her career. In the past year alone, she co-authored eight articles, including a seminal report in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the results of a clinical trial testing the use and timing of bone marrow mononuclear cells on left ventricular function after acute myocardial infarction. She also co-authored a recent paper on the value of cell therapy research for preventing heart failure after myocardial infarction and for treating patients with existing heart failure.

“Sonia offered incredible leadership and contributions to all of us, to the scientific community and to the nation,” said Dr. Michael Lauer, director of NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences. “Beyond her professional interests and accomplishments, we will remember her as a dear dedicated friend, colleague, advisor, mentor and confidant. Being able to work with and learn from Sonia was a great blessing. She will be deeply missed.”

Skarlatos is survived by her husband, Dr. Howard Kruth, an investigator in the NHLBI Division of Intramural Research; daughter, Roxane Burkett, in NHLBI’s Office of Acquisitions; stepdaughter, Rachel Kruth; mother, Sylvette; brother, Stephen; and grandchildren, Patric and Sofia Burkett.

NHLBI Alumnus Letendre Mourned

Dr. Carol H. Letendre

Dr. Carol H. Letendre, 75, former deputy director of NHLBI’s Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, died Aug. 22 of septic shock and pneumonia. She retired in March 2001 and had enjoyed volunteer work in recent years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Letendre, a biochemist, spent 20 of her 32 years at NIH at NHLBI. She helped guide research that led to such advances as an understanding of the role of blood clots in heart attacks, a national blood safety program and new developments in the management of hemophilia and sickle cell disease.

Letendre also contributed to the development of NHLBI’s stem cell research and stem cell transplantation programs. Her interests were treatment and cure of hemophilia and prevention and treatment of arterial thrombosis.

Early in her NIH career, she was a research chemist in NICHD’s Laboratory of Biomedical Sciences. She became director of the NIA dermatology program in 1980, marking the start of a 20-year career as a health scientist administrator. In 1981, she joined NHLBI as executive secretary of the institute’s research manpower review committee in the Division of Extramural Affairs. Two years later she became program administrator for the DBDR Hemophilia and Platelet Disorders Program, and in 1986 she was named the division’s deputy director. She won an NIH Director’s Award in 1999 for her work as a member of the trans-NIH zebrafish coordinating committee.

She is survived by two sons, Dr. Kenneth A. Letendre of Albuquerque, N.M., and Robert W. Letendre, Jr. of Germantown, Md.; a brother, Richard Hilary of Tallahassee, Fla.; a sister, Sue Hilary Castillo of Albuquerque, N.M.; and by her former husband, Robert W. Letendre, Sr. of Potomac, Md.

NIAID’s Barillas-Mury Wins Sanofi-Institut Pasteur Award

Dr. Carolina V. Barillas-Mury

Dr. Carolina V. Barillas-Mury, chief of the mosquito immunity and vector competence section in NIAID’s Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research, has received a 2013 Sanofi-Institut Pasteur Award for her outstanding contributions to understanding the mosquito immune responses that affect malaria transmission. Recently, Barillas-Mury and her research group discovered a gene, called Pfs47, that enables the malaria-causing Plasmodium falciparum parasite to elude the mosquito immune system. She and her colleagues are now investigating ways to block the function of this key gene so the mosquito immune system can detect and eliminate the parasite before it is transmitted to people.

EAMC Names New Chairs

From left: Nikki Lattimore, Lisa Portnoy and Kristie Hill

The NIH Extramural Administrative Management Council recently designated NCI’s Kristie Hill (r) and NIDCD’s Lisa Portnoy (c) as incoming EAMC chair and vice chair, respectively. They will serve for a year, starting in October. Nikki Lattimore (l) of NBS will replace NIAID’s Veree Bampoe-Addo as agenda chair. The council serves as a resource for communicating the latest NIH administrative issues and developments to the extramural administrative community. It provides a forum for AOs to focus on advances in administrative services in support of NIH science.

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