Cooke, Driving Force Behind NICHD’s Founding, Dies at 93
|Dr. Robert E. Cooke (l) in 2012, with NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher
Dr. Robert E. Cooke, a member of the presidential
task force that laid the groundwork for the founding
of NICHD, died at his home on Martha’s Vineyard
on Feb. 2. He was 93 years old.
Cooke and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President
John F. Kennedy, are considered by many to
be the driving forces behind the establishment of
the institute. Cooke served on a presidential committee,
the recommendations of which led to the
founding of Head Start, the pre-school education
program established under President Lyndon Johnson
to serve the early educational needs of children
from low-income families.
“Dr. Cooke cared deeply about the health and wellbeing
of children—those least able to make their
needs known to our country’s leadership,” said Dr.
Alan Guttmacher, NICHD director. “NICHD came
into existence largely due to his foresight and determination
and, to this day, serves as a tribute to his
efforts. He will be greatly missed.”
Two of Cooke’s children were born with a genetic
disorder, cri du chat syndrome, which is characterized
by intellectual disability and delayed
development. In the late 1950s, when Cooke was
a professor and director of the department of
pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he began
advising Shriver, who headed the Joseph P. Kennedy
Jr. Foundation. The foundation is dedicated
to working on issues related to intellectual and
In a videotaped interview for NICHD’s 50th anniversary in 2012, Cooke
recounted his early involvement in the institute’s creation.
“I was a good friend with Eunice Shriver and when the president was elected,
before he took office, they put together a task force to look at health and social
services for the new administration. And I got a telephone call one day asking
me if I could serve on this task force.”
The task force’s report pointed out the lack of research on the physical, intellectual
and emotional growth of children and recommended establishment of an
organization to investigate disorders of human development, including intellectual
and developmental disorders.
Following the report, and at the urging of Cooke, Shriver and others, President
Kennedy signed legislation creating NICHD in 1962.
Afterwards, Cooke continued his involvement with the institute over the years.
He served as a member of the National Advisory Child Health and Human
Development Council, the NICHD intramural program’s board of scientific councilors
and the advisory board for NICHD’s National Center for Medical Rehabilitation
In his 2012 interview, Cooke concluded that NICHD had proven its value over
its 50-year history:
“My feeling is that NICHD has made an enormous contribution to children in
this country and, I think, to medicine in general,” he said. “What you do for the
child seems to make an enormous difference in his life.”
Three New Members Appointed to NIGMS Council
|NIGMS director Dr. Jon Lorsch (third from l) welcomes the newest members of the
NIGMS Council. Shown are (from l) Dr. Richard L. Lalonde, Dr. Gail E. Besner and Dr.
Alan “Rick” Horwitz.
Three new members recently joined the National Advisory General Medical Sciences
Dr. Gail E. Besner is the H. William Clatworthy, Jr. professor of surgery and
chief of pediatric surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Oh.,
and a professor of surgery and pediatrics at Ohio State University College of
Dr. Alan “Rick” Horwitz is the Harrison distinguished professor of cell biology
and associate vice president for research and bioscience programs at the University
of Virginia School of Medicine.
Dr. Richard L. Lalonde is vice president and global head of clinical pharmacology
at Pfizer Inc.
NIDA Mourns Denisco’s Passing
Dr. Richard Denisco, a medical officer at NIDA, died recently from complications related to heart disease.
He joined NIDA’s Services Research Branch in the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research in September 2005. He provided leadership for scientific initiatives emphasizing the delivery of smoking cessation strategies, treatment of chronic pain, reduction of prescription drug abuse and the training of physicians to effectively address addiction. He was instrumental in the NIDAMED initiative encouraging physicians to screen patients for substance abuse and was NIDA’s medical expert contributing to development of the NIH Pain Consortium Centers of Excellence for Pain Education.
Denisco was an active member of several NIH and federal groups focused on translating research into policies and practices to improve the lives of patients. He received many accolades for his work including two NIH Director’s Awards for projects related to physician education.
His medical degree was from the University of Florida and he was board-certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine. He also received an M.P.H. from Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
Arora Joins Staff at NIGMS
Dr. Krishan Arora recently joined NIGMS as a program director in the Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity, where he administers two components of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program. He leads the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence and manages a portfolio of Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence grants. Before joining NIGMS, Arora served as an NIH program director for 14 years, first in the Division of Research Infrastructure at the former NCRR and later in the Division of Scientific Programs at NIMHD. Earlier, he was a senior staff fellow at NICHD in what was then the Endocrinology and Reproduction Research Branch. He earned a B.Sc. in biology from Punjab University, an M.Sc. in biochemistry from Punjab Agricultural University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Australian National University. He conducted postdoctoral research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.