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Vol. LXV, No. 25
December 6, 2013
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The Joy of Science
Research Festival Celebrates 60th Anniversary of Double Helix, Clinical Center

On the front page...

NIA’s Dr. Luigi Ferrucci at Research Festival 2013
NIA’s Dr. Luigi Ferrucci at Research Festival 2013
Every year, the NIH Research Festival highlights the work of the intramural community. Itís an opportunity to learn about the amazing research taking place in NIH laboratories. And itís an occasion for NIH scientists, from the apprentice to the veteran, to mingle and network.

At the 27th NIH Research Festival, held Nov. 6-8, ďThe joy of doing science was palpable,Ē said festival co-chair Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director of NIA.

This yearís festival celebrated two milestones: publication of the Watson & Crick paper that first described the double helix structure of DNA and the 60th anniversary of the Clinical Center. To honor these achievements, much of the festival focused on advances in molecular medicine.

Continued...

“The Clinical Center brings to bear enormous resources and specialized capabilities in terms of allowing us to see patients in a research setting,” said Dr. Daniel Kastner, scientific director of NHGRI and festival co-chair.

This was the first festival held entirely at the Clinical Center, a fitting way to celebrate its 60th birthday (see sidebar). All symposia sessions took place in the CC’s newly opened FAES (Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences) Academic Center. Scientific poster sessions and other exhibits lined nearby hallways.

Cutting the ribbon to open the new FAES renovated space in Bldg. 10 are (from l) FAES Executive Director Christina Farias; CC director Dr. John Gallin; NIH director Dr. Francis Collins; NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman; and Dr. Angela Gronenborn, president of FAES, former senior investigator at NIDDK and now at the University of Pittsburgh. NHGRI senior investigator Dr. Julie Segre helped open Research Festival 2013.

Cutting the ribbon to open the new FAES renovated space in Bldg. 10 are (from l) FAES Executive Director Christina Farias; CC director Dr. John Gallin; NIH director Dr. Francis Collins; NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman; and Dr. Angela Gronenborn, president of FAES, former senior investigator at NIDDK and now at the University of Pittsburgh.

NHGRI senior investigator Dr. Julie Segre helped open Research Festival 2013.

Photos: Ernie Branson

The week also marked the 16th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center, which opened in 2004. CC director Dr. John Gallin reported that a new surgical ICU for cell therapy research is under construction, evidence that “even in these tight budget times, we’re doing new things,” he said. The $9 million, 6,000-square-foot facility, which will be located in old Bldg. 10, is scheduled to open in early 2015.

The festival’s opening plenary featured three intramural investigators who discussed the impact of genetic advances on human disease.

Gottesman (r) presents the Scientific and Culinary Excellence Award to Dr. Daniel Kastner at the scientific directors meeting on Nov. 20. The certificate reads: “In recognition of an exemplary poster presentation illustrating your scientific contributions to the National Institutes of Health as well as the most delectable dessert [chocolate chip cookies, with icing].”

Gottesman (r) presents the Scientific and Culinary Excellence Award to Dr. Daniel Kastner at the scientific directors meeting on Nov. 20. The certificate reads: “In recognition of an exemplary poster presentation illustrating your scientific contributions to the National Institutes of Health as well as the most delectable dessert [chocolate chip cookies, with icing].”

Photo: Richard Wyatt

Kastner discussed research using genetic markers to pinpoint the origin of rare autoimmune diseases. Now, with the drop in cost of genome sequencing, “one can take small families, sequence them and find new susceptibility genes,” he said. Challenges going forward, he noted, include uncovering and cataloging rare variants, finding sources of mutation and susceptibility and ultimately developing targeted therapies.

NHGRI senior investigator Dr. Julie Segre—whose cutting-edge research on DNA sequencing to halt the CC’s 2011 cluster of infections with a multi-drug resistant bacteria won her and her colleagues a Federal Employee of the Year “Sammie” award in October—discussed her research. Hospital-acquired bacterial infections afflict 2 million Americans annually and cause nearly 100,000 deaths, she said, which she fears could lead to public concern about seeking hospital care. Her team can sequence these bacteria at high depth to do comparisons and look for matches and mutations.

“As we run through the antibiotic pipeline, we have to consider that hospital infection control and regulating transmission of these [infections] with mandatory testing are going to be crucial because we don’t have new antibiotics to just keep throwing at these bacteria,” she said.

Dr. Edwin “Ted” Becker (l) received a plaque from Gottesman (r) in recognition of Becker’s shepherding of the FAES renovation in Bldg. 10.

Dr. Edwin “Ted” Becker (l) received a plaque from Gottesman (r) in recognition of Becker’s shepherding of the FAES renovation in Bldg. 10.

Dr. Cynthia Dunbar, a senior investigator at NHLBI, discussed gene transfer of hematopoietic stem cells, which are being used to treat disease and help develop new drug therapies. Her team is working with rhesus monkeys whose phenotype is similar to humans and whose extended life-span allows long-term studies of transplants and gene therapy prior to human clinical studies. She highlighted new technology to tag cells and identify their clonal hierarchy via genetic barcoding.

This year, the scientific directors got in on the poster session action, presenting work on molecular and cancer biology and neuroscience. Another addition was the scientific directors’ bake-off that was judged by a group of postdoctoral fellows. Kastner was crowned with the Scientific and Culinary Excellence Award. The intramural community is still buzzing about his tasty chocolate chip cookies.

Other festival highlights included a green labs exhibit and presentation of the FARE awards. This year, 241 outstanding intramural recipients received these travel awards to present their research at scientific meetings in the coming year.

NICHD scientific director Dr. Constantine Stratakis (l) explains his work to a poster session visitor.

NICHD scientific director Dr. Constantine Stratakis (l) explains his work to a poster session visitor.

Research Festival usually takes place in October, but this year’s event was postponed due to the government shutdown. In opening remarks on Nov. 6, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins said that, following the shutdown, “I was enormously impressed with the determination, the enthusiasm and the commitment to get started back up again as quickly as possible…It’s just what I’ve come to expect from this remarkable intramural program.”

The Intramural Research Program includes nearly 7,000 scientists. One gratifying aspect of intramural NIH, said Ferrucci, is the option to take on long-term research projects that might not see the light of day in the extramural world. For example, he said, NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging is tracking the health of individuals over a 50-year period, a unique opportunity that likely wouldn’t qualify for extramural funding.

“The intramural environment is a special place,” said Ferrucci. “These scientists could probably make more money elsewhere but they come and stay with NIH for the love of science.”

Clinical Center Celebrates 60 Years

CC director Gallin recounts six decades of medical advances.
CC director Gallin recounts six decades of medical advances.

The Clinical Center was authorized in 1944. President Harry Truman laid the cornerstone in 1951 and the building officially opened on July 6, 1953.

The CC’s first director was Jack Masur, after whom the CC auditorium is named. His first of two tours of duty started in 1948, before the building even opened.

The first patient was Charles Meredith, a Maryland farmer with prostate cancer. That first day, the CC admitted 18 patients who were suffering from one of three ailments: cancer, heart disease or arthritis.

The CC cost $64 million to build, which is about $850 million in today’s dollars. The addition of the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center, which opened in 2004, cost $650 million to build.

Many revolutionary biomedical accomplishments have occurred inside the CC. Some highlights include:

Molecular Advances

Importance of blood lipids in cardiovascular care; enzyme replacement for Gaucher’s disease; discovery of interleukin 1; description of autoinflammatory diseases; first treatments of AIDS; lithium for bipolar disorders; PET scans for neuropathology; immune cell manipulation for cancer therapy.

Genomics

Discovering genetics of rare diseases; first gene therapy; gene sequencing of microorganisms for infection control.

Technical

Continuous flow blood separator, fecalator (to isolate parasites), fusion of ultrasound with MRI to diagnose and manage prostate cancer.

In 2011, the Clinical Center won the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award in recognition of its clinical research and high-quality patient care.


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