NAS Elects Two NIH Scientists
Two NIH scientists are among the 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 15 countries named to the National Academy of Sciences on Apr. 28 in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.
Dr. Alan G. Hinnebusch is chief of the Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Development and director, program in cellular regulation and metabolism, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Dr. Warren J. Leonard is NIH distinguished investigator and chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, and director, Immunology Center, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Those elected bring the total number of active members to 2,250 and the total number of foreign associates to 452.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership and—with the National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council—provides science, technology and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.
Pelham Retires After Golden Anniversary At NIH
By Paula Whitacre
Jo Pelham, who retired after 50 years at NIH, wears a unique pin that few others can wear.
Jo Pelham, who retired recently as a scientific review officer in the Center for Scientific Review, has a unique piece of jewelry that few people can rightly wear—designed by her husband, it links her 10-, 20-, 30-, 40- and 50-year service pins into a circle, honoring 50 years at NIH.
Pelham joined NIH in 1964 as a chemist in the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases (now NIDDK). Her career encompassed intramural research, program, council and review. “NIH is a great place to work,” she said. “I could change careers without changing employers.”
Growing up in the central Pennsylvania town of DuBois, Pelham planned to become a nurse, following the lead of a cousin. “But when I was 16, I worked at the local hospital and realized it wasn’t for me,” she said.
Instead, she earned a B.S. in chemistry at Mercyhurst College. After graduation, Pelham and two friends looked for jobs in Washington. She followed up on a family friend’s suggestion to look at NIH. At the time, each institute had its own personnel office and she walked from office to office to apply in person. “Hard as it is to believe, they let me start on a temporary basis until my paperwork came through,” she said.
In 1971, Pelham moved to the National Cancer Institute, first in a lab, then as a program analyst. From 1984 to 1988, she was assistant to the executive secretary of the National Cancer Advisory Board. She also coordinated review of conference grant applications.
When she realized how much she enjoyed review, she sought a position as executive secretary (now SRO) with the Division of Research Grants (now CSR). “It’s the best job at NIH, as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “I loved the interaction with the outside community.” In her 28 years in DRG/CSR, she ran 5 study sections. In 2004, she helped establish the musculoskeletal rehabilitation sciences (MRS) study section, which she ran until her retirement.
MRS is challenging, according to Dr. Rajiv Kumar, chief of the musculoskeletal, oral and skin sciences integrated review group, because it reviews diverse subject areas, sends applications to 12 institutes and deals with 8 grant mechanisms. “She handled it extremely well,” he said. “She came to know all the players in the field, both reviewers and the applicants.”
“She was absolutely beloved by the folks in her area,” agreed Dr. Daniel McDonald, SRO of the skeletal biology structure & regeneration study section, with whom she worked for about two decades.
Pelham chaired the CSR training committee and the trans-NIH extramural associates committee. The latter program helped faculty at small schools learn the NIH review process. As a graduate of a small, all-female college, Pelham said she particularly enjoyed mentoring the people who came through the program.
Pelham has a calm, clear voice, well-suited for her volunteer position as a reader for people who are blind or dyslexic. Through Learning Ally, she reads aloud in a recording studio, usually materials needed for work or study.
Retirement plans include exploring the Washington area. “I’m thinking of getting off at a Metro stop, then exploring what’s in the neighborhood around it,” she said. As she did throughout her career, Pelham will fully explore the possibilities and learn all she can.
Pharmacist Sillers Retires After More Than 30 Years
Karen Sillers, a pharmacist in the Division of Veterinary Resources within the Office of Research Services, plans to retire in May after more than 30 years of service to NIH. She has been the pharmacist for the NIH Animal Care Program for the last 20 years and established the first pharmacy dedicated to providing drugs and medications for animals used in biomedical research at NIH.
Sillers received her B.S. in pharmacy from the University of Maryland in Baltimore and shortly after passed the pharmacy board. Little did she know, after participating in a 1-month clinical internship in the Clinical Center Pharmacy, that she would dedicate over three decades of service to NIH and its mission.
In 1982, she was hired as a staff pharmacist in the CC Pharmacy and spent the next 5 years exploring every department within the CC—unit dose, IV additive, outpatient, pediatric oncology satellite—and served as a clinical pharmacist to NICHD. According to Sillers, “The ability to learn something new every day I came to work—that was the great draw that kept me at NIH.”
After 5 years of rotating through CC departments, she was placed in charge of the compounding & packaging unit and inpatient controlled substance distribution. In 1995, she was offered a position with the Veterinary Resources Program as its first pharmacist, where she excelled. “As far as I can tell, I was the first veterinary pharmacist that specialized in lab animal medicine in the U.S.,” Sillers said. She enjoyed the challenge of building the VRP program (now DVR) from scratch and working with veterinarians who were just as passionate about animal care as she was.
Over the years, Sillers has provided expert advice on a wide variety of pharmacy topics in addition to providing oversight of controlled drugs for non-human use. She collaborated with veterinarians at the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, a group that oversees and ensures the humane care and use of research animals in Public Health Service-funded research, and influenced pharmaceutical care of lab animals on a national scale. She also assisted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in establishing its veterinary pharmacy program. Sillers also gained access to the Pharmacy Prime Vendor contract administered by Defense Supply Center of Philadelphia, which has provided significant savings in procurement of drugs and medications used in the treatment of lab animals over the years.
Beyond work at NIH, Sillers joined the Society of Veterinary Hospital Pharmacists. SVHP is an international organization composed of pharmacists who are passionate and dedicated to teaching and ensuring the ethical treatment of animal patients. As a member, she served as secretary from 2010 to 2014.
Although Sillers plans to retire from NIH, she’s considering yoga as a second career. She picked up yoga as a hobby in 2010 and experienced a huge mental shift that helped bring calmness and clarity to her life. With a new outlook on life, and determination, she completed her 200-hour yoga instruction training in July 2014 and hopes soon to share the power of control to manage day-to-day emotional stress with others.
NIGMS’s Zachary Says Farewell
By Jilliene Drayton
|Photo: Chidinma Okparanta
In pursuit of a career that offered a closer commute to home and to his wife, who at the time was expecting twins, Dr. Arthur “Zach” Zachary seized an opportunity 25 years ago to join NIGMS as an executive secretary in what was then the Office of Review Activities. Since that time, his sons graduated from college, his title changed from executive secretary to scientific review officer and ORA became the Office of Scientific Review. Another change recently took place in Zachary’s life—retirement.
Zachary earned a B.S. in biology from Brooklyn College in 1965 and an M.A. in marine science from the College of William & Mary in 1970. He spent the early years of his career in a variety of scientific positions, including high school science teacher, research assistant at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and oceanography instructor at the United States Armed Forces Institute in Virginia.
Zachary went on to earn a Ph.D. in marine science/microbiology in 1975 from William & Mary, followed by several postdoctoral positions. His first faculty appointment was as a research assistant professor in the department of biological chemistry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Although his diverse research pursuits ranged from marine ecology to molecular biology, Zachary’s primary focus was in marine microbial ecology and bacteriophage biology.
He joined NIGMS in 1990, where his initial assignments included reviewing research training grant applications in the area of genetics. Years later, when NIGMS modified its review group structure, he became scientific review officer for grant applications in a variety of areas.
“Zach’s review responsibilities went well beyond research training, ranging from applications focused on the microbiome to systems biology to large-scale collaborative projects,” said Dr. Helen Sunshine, OSR chief. “During his time at NIGMS, he also made significant contributions to the review structure and process for Support of Competitive Research grant applications.”
Known to NIGMS colleagues for his innovative ideas, dedication to the institute’s training programs and sense of humor, Zachary was recognized by the scientific review community as a role model to both graduate students and senior-level investigators with whom he interacted. He even provided grant reviewers with hand-drawn abstract artwork that was relevant to the review.
Though he may one day have a promising future as an artist, a return to research or teaching is among the avid basketball player’s many possibilities. “I have to figure out my direction,” he said. “But for now, I want to enjoy having the freedom to do what I want.”
Geneticist Eckstrand Retires After Long Career at NIGMS
By Jilliene Drayton
As a child, Dr. Irene Eckstrand scanned through her father’s medical books, fascinated by how the intricately wired machine known as the human body operated. “I loved seeing how people’s insides were connected, and I was interested in trying to reconstruct how things worked,” she said. At the time, she didn’t realize that her childhood obsession with the maps within us would lead to a career that included mapping how infectious diseases spread.
During her 33 years at NIGMS, Eckstrand handled a range of responsibilities that included managing grants on evolution and population genetics, leading a computational biology initiative and spearheading science education efforts.
As an undergraduate student at Earlham College in Indiana, Eckstrand initially aspired to become a middle- or high-school teacher. Interested in finding the answers to big and challenging scientific questions, she changed gears and decided to major in biology. Eckstrand went on to earn a B.A. from Earlham, followed by an M.S. in biology from Wright State University in Ohio and then a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Texas.
She joined NIGMS in 1981 as a program administrator in what is now the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB). “My research background was in population biology and evolutionary biology, and at that time NIH didn’t support a lot of work in those areas,” Eckstrand explained.
“During her time at NIGMS, Irene made a lasting impact with her ability to identify and nurture fields that were later shown to be critical to the missions of NIGMS and NIH,” said Dr. Judith Greenberg, NIGMS deputy director and former GDB director.
Eckstrand’s involvement in the early development of the Human Genome Project led to an assignment as an NIH liaison to the Department of Energy, which jointly managed the project with NIH.
She also served for 2 years as acting director of the NIH Office of Science Education (OSE), where she worked with professional societies, educational organizations and other groups on improving biology and mathematics education. “I took a detail position in OSE because I was always interested in education,” said Eckstrand. “I felt there was a way to connect the kind of work we do here at NIH to the kind of things that students get excited about in science.”
Later, Eckstrand played key roles in developing two NIH curriculum supplements, “Doing Science” and “Evolution and Medicine.” She also contributed to a number of scientific outreach efforts, including the USA Science & Engineering Festival, Take Your Child to Work Day and the Science Alliance, a program that helped train D.C. and Montgomery County teachers through partnerships with NIH scientists.
In addition to administering her genetics grant portfolios, Eckstrand coordinated a joint program with the National Science Foundation focused on the evolution of infectious diseases. From 1997 to 2004, she also managed the NIGMS Bridges to the Future Program, which helps students from underrepresented groups transition from associate to baccalaureate and from master’s to doctoral programs in preparation for careers in scientific research. And she directed the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS), which began in 2004 to apply computational and mathematical tools in modeling the potential spread of infectious diseases and the effect of various interventions.
“The success of MIDAS and the impact that this program has had in areas ranging from flu to Ebola are due largely to Irene’s leadership and vision,” said Dr. Susan Gregurick, director of the NIGMS division that houses the MIDAS program.
Eckstrand received many honors and awards, including an NIGMS Director’s Award of Merit and an HHS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service. Last fall, she was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In retirement, Eckstrand plans to spend time with her adult children, read books, garden and sing. “Retirement is a big transition, and I want to take some time to find my next calling,” she said. “I’m just going to wait and see what sprouts. And I’m confident something will sprout.”
NIDCD Mourns Loss of Hughes
Dr. Gordon Blackistone Hughes, clinical trials coordinator for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders since 2008, died suddenly on Feb. 15. He was 66.
A respected clinician, researcher and colleague, Hughes previously served for 28 years (1980-2008) on the faculty of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in the department of otolaryngology and communicative disorders, section of otology and neurotology, before coming to NIDCD. He was appointed section head in 2001.
During his time at NIDCD, Hughes oversaw the
development of a clinical trials program for the
institute. He advised NIDCD staff and leadership
and provided assistance to grant applicants
in support of clinical trials in the areas of
hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech and
language. His colleagues describe him as gentle,
giving and insightful.
“Gordon was invaluable to our institute, to the
broader NIH community and well beyond, to the
research and clinical communities involved in
the NIDCD mission areas,” said Dr. Judith Cooper,
NIDCD deputy director and director of the
Division of Scientific Programs. “He was a wonderful
colleague and will be terribly missed.”
He was also a frequently quoted media spokesperson
for NIDCD, appearing on NPR, the New
York Times and, recently, the Associated Press.
Hughes was born in Pittsburgh and attended
Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa. He
graduated from Dartmouth College with an A.B.
degree in 1970 and received his M.D. from Case
Western Reserve University School of Medicine
in 1974. He then completed a fellowship in
otology, neurotology and skull base surgery at
the E.A.R. Foundation in Nashville.
Throughout his career, Hughes received numerous
honors and awards. He was a recipient of
both the Honor Award (1987) and the Distinguished
Service Award (1996) of the American
Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck
Surgery. He was an active member in the clinical
and research community, serving on committees
of several societies including the American
Otological Society, American Neurotology
Society and Association for Research in Otolaryngology.
In addition, he served on the editorial
boards for Otology & Neurotology, The Laryngoscope and Ear, Nose and Throat Journal.
He was most well-known for his textbook Clinical
Otology, now in its fourth edition and widely
praised as an excellent resource for all otolaryngologists
and otologists. He had 72 peerreviewed
publications and numerous book
chapters, editorials and presentations.
Beyond otology and clinical research, Hughes
was dedicated to his family and heritage. He
recently completed a book, The Blackistones of
Maryland Do Well Doubt Not, on family history.
He was an active member of All Saints Episcopal
Church in Avenue, Md. He shared his love of the
water and the game of soccer with many friends,
family and colleagues.
Survivors include his wife, Myra, their son, Gordon
Jr., his older brother, Mifflin, and his twin
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to
All Saints Episcopal Church, Oakley Rd., Avenue, MD 20609.
Disability Rights Advocate, Former
NCMRR Deputy Director Gray Mourned
Dr. David B. Gray, former deputy director of
NICHD’s National Center for Medical Rehabilitation
Research, passed away on Feb. 12.
Gray, 71, also had served on NICHD’s advisory
council and was a professor of occupational
therapy and neurology at Washington University
School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“David played a crucial role in the establishment
of the NCMRR,” said NCMRR deputy
director Dr. Ralph Nitkin, who worked
with Gray. “In his position as a professor at
Washington University School of Medicine,
he was a strong advocate for the rights of
those with disability. He was a valued colleague and a good friend. He will be
Gray became a quadriplegic after he fell from the roof of his house in 1976. His
own experience with medical rehabilitation led to his professional interest in
He began working for NICHD in 1981. From 1982 to 1986, he was a health scientist
administrator in the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities
Branch and the Human Learning and Behavior Branch. In 1986, he was appointed
by President Ronald Reagan as director of the National Institute on Disability
and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in the U.S. Department of Education.
(NIDRR had been called the National Institute of Handicapped Research, but
Gray helped to change the agency’s name.)
Gray returned to NICHD in 1987 and was involved in discussions about whether
NIH should have a separate center for research on medical rehabilitation. In
1991, he was appointed acting deputy director of the newly created NCMRR,
becoming deputy director in 1993. He left for a position at Washington University
in 1995. Gray served NICHD again from 2003 to 2006, after he was appointed
to the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council.
Among his many honors were the NIH Director’s Award in 1993 and the NICHD
Equal Employment Opportunity Special Achievement Award in 1990.
Gray helped make the Americans with Disabilities Act a reality and was present
when President George H.W. Bush signed the landmark disability rights legislation
into law. Throughout Gray’s career he focused on creating environments to
allow people with disabilities to participate in society.
He also helped establish the Accessible Health and Wellness Center in St. Louis,
which promotes physical health and emotional wellness for people with disabilities,
and to develop the participation and environment components of the International
Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health.
Gray held a doctorate in psychology and genetics from the University of
His survivors include wife Margaret “Margy” E. Gray, son David W. Gray, daughters
Elizabeth Gray and Polly Payne and two grandchildren.
Weiss Named Division Director at NIDA
Dr. Susan R.B. Weiss will lead the Division of Extramural Research, a newly formed division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In addition to overseeing NIDA’s extramural research grant program, the division will carry out NIDA’s research training and early career development program and lead NIDA’s involvement in trans-NIH initiatives that include Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study and Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.
As DER director, Weiss will establish scientific priorities and strategic goals for the institute’s extramural research programs; manage the concept and peer review of all NIDA grant applications in coordination with NIH’s Center for Scientific Review; and coordinate and lead activities of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.
“Dr. Weiss has shown exceptional talent in every position she has held here at NIDA and is the perfect choice for this immensely complex leadership position,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow. “She has a strong knowledge of addiction science and understands the challenges related to the grants process. She is also enormously skilled in the intricacies of science policy related to drug abuse issues.”
Weiss first came to NIDA in 2002 as a health scientist administrator working in the Science Policy Branch, where she became chief the following year. In 2011, she was asked to serve as acting director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications, overseeing all of NIDA’s interactions with its many stakeholders—students, researchers, community groups, the media, Congress, other NIH institutes and Department of Health and Human Services agencies and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2012, she was asked to join NIDA’s executive leadership team as associate director for scientific affairs, providing guidance and oversight on scientific matters relating to program development, management, research training and science planning.
Weiss received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Maryland and earlier in her career was chief of the unit on behavioral biology at the National Institute of Mental Health, later serving as senior director for research for the National Mental Health Association. She is one of NIDA’s foremost experts on the complex science of addiction, marijuana science and policy and the many factors contributing to the nation’s prescription drug abuse problem.
“Throughout my professional career, I have worked across the spectrum of basic, clinical and translational research where science, communications and science policy meet,” said Weiss. “I am excited about my new role that will focus on the science we support through extramural grants and on strengthening the already robust collaborations between NIDA’s scientific interests and those of other NIH institutes and centers.”
NIDA administers more than $775 million for about 2,000 grants through funding opportunity announcements and research training programs.