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Vol. LXVII, No. 21
October 9, 2015
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29th Yearly Celebration
Research Festival 2015 Lauds ‘Amazing Place to Do Science’

On the front page...

NCI’s Dr. Peter Choyke at the opening plenary

NCI’s Dr. Peter Choyke at the opening plenary
session of NIH Research Festival 2015

“There are 8 million stories in the naked city,” to quote a line from classic TV, “and this is 1” or a dozen of them. As usual, NIH’s yearly Research Festival presented some of the best tales in its own “city”—the Intramural Research Program—for the 29th celebration of in-house science since 1986.

“The intent of the Research Festival is to get people out of the laboratories, out of the clinics and talking to each other about their science with the hope of stimulating activities that are even more exciting than the ones currently going on,” said NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, opening the 3-day event on Sept. 16.

“There’s one thread that runs through all
of the Research Festivals and that is that this is an amazing, amazing place to do science,” he said. Part of the IRP’s long-term success is due to the fact that “we not only attract many talented people, but we [also] provide longterm support and encouragement for what could be viewed in some places as high-risk activities.”

Continued...

Simple Question Plants a Seed

At the first plenary session, “Creating NIH Technology Incubators,” Dr. Peter Choyke described a research seed planted far outside the lab, at a backyard party held by his NCI colleague Dr. Marston Linehan. “This is a story about people and machines,” said Choyke, a senior investigator in NCI’s Molecular Imaging Program. Seems that party chitchat turned quickly to shop talk when a young urologist named Dr. Peter Pinto “somewhat indignantly” posed a question: “Why is the prostate the only organ in the body that is biopsied blind?”

As part of the Future Research Leaders Conference poster session—new this year to the Research Festival—Brown University’s Dr. Christopher Arellano (r) describes his work. The conference sponsored by the NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity seeks to engage exceptional early-stage investigators from diverse backgrounds and increase their awareness of career options here.
As part of the Future Research Leaders Conference poster session—new this year to the Research Festival—Brown University’s Dr. Christopher Arellano (r) describes his work. The conference sponsored by the NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity seeks to engage exceptional early-stage investigators from diverse backgrounds and increase their awareness of career options here.

That simple query led to formation of a multidisciplinary team determined to improve precision in prostate biopsy (and eventually treatment) via image-guided needle navigation. Experts in radiology, pathology, cancer ablation and ultrasound, biomedical engineering, physics and IT all ultimately had roles in Choyke’s story, which resulted in NIH patenting and licensing a new technology—magnetic resonance-ultrasound guided biopsy.

“I want to call out the atrium of Bldg. 10 as an extremely big incubator for good ideas,” Choyke said. “I’m happy to report that there have been many copycat technologies…American ingenuity being what it is,” 4 or 5 companies now offer their own variations. Thousands of patients are benefiting across the country and the world.

As Gottesman had hoped, the telling of one story immediately prompted a new potential story. One of the first questions to Choyke came from another investigator in the audience: Could the image-guided tech be applied to other cancers that use CT or other imaging? Answer: Absolutely.

Therein lies the beauty of the NIH Research Festival.

‘Rendezvous for Tech Designers, Users’

NIBIB’s Dr. Hari Shroff talks about the real-time hi-res non-invasive microscopes he designs.
NIBIB’s Dr. Hari Shroff talks about the real-time hi-res non-invasive microscopes he designs.

Next up at the plenary was NIBIB optical microscopist Dr. Hari Shroff, whose story involved NIH development of systems that can provide real-time high-resolution imaging of living organisms and build neurodevelopmental atlases. There are now more than 30 of his “high-speed, high-resolution, non-invasive light-sheet microscopy” systems worldwide; 6 are located here.

“What gets me up in the morning is thinking about how to make optical microscopes better,” Shroff said. He also announced the creation of a trans-NIH advanced imaging facility that will house next-generation microscopes and be a “rendezvous point for designers as well as users and perhaps stimulate new research in both directions.” Construction on the facility is set to begin on campus later in 2015.

“What if you could walk into a cancer cell and compare it to a normal cell and…get statistically useful information?” asked NCI’s Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, discussing yet another NIH success—the cryo-EM revolution. His current research, begun more than a decade ago, looks at four problems: 3D mapping of mammalian cells, spatial architecture of signal transduction, mechanisms of HIV entry and the structures of membrane proteins and protein complexes involved in metabolism.

At the time, he pointed out, he knew almost nothing about any of these issues at the cell biology level.

Participating in the plenary on chronic inflammation are (from l) NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz, NEI senior investigator Dr. Rachel Caspi, NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, NHLBI senior investigator Dr. Neal Young, NHLBI investigator Dr. Angélique Biancotto, NINDS tenure-track investigator Dr. Daniel Reich, NIAMS scientific director Dr. John O’Shea and NIAID senior investigator Dr. Thomas Wynn.

Participating in the plenary on chronic inflammation are (from l) NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz, NEI senior investigator Dr. Rachel Caspi, NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman, NHLBI senior investigator Dr. Neal Young, NHLBI investigator Dr. Angélique Biancotto, NINDS tenure-track investigator Dr. Daniel Reich, NIAMS scientific director Dr. John O’Shea and NIAID senior investigator Dr. Thomas Wynn.

Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson, Lisa Helfert

Tolerating Uncharted Exploration

“The intramural program is the only place where something like this would ever be tolerated, where [people] can work on something that they did not know anything about, but expressed good faith that this was something they wanted to do,” Subramaniam quipped, drawing nods of agreement and laughter from the audience. “If I were on the outside, perhaps at a university, the chances that I would be out looking for work in 2 years would be very, very high.”

This year’s festival was unique because the lectures, panels and workshops represented first fruit from the IRP’s long-term planning process involving not only scientific directors and current senior investigators, but also tenure-track scientists still early in their careers at NIH.

Another Future Research Leader, Dr. Jessica Scoffield (l) of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, discusses her poster At the institute and center directors’ poster session, NIDCR director Dr. Martha Somerman (r) offers food for the mind as well as the body—with NIAMS clinical fellow Dr. Vivek Thumbigere, she describes the effects of osteogenesis imperfecta, a heritable bone disorder, on periodontal tissues in mouse models of OI. NIDCR research fellow Dr. Fnu Aomin, Somerman offers what she called “precision-designed, molar- and incisor-shaped sugar cookies—results not reproducible.”
Above (from l): Another Future Research Leader, Dr. Jessica Scoffield (l) of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, discusses her poster. At the institute and center directors’ poster session, NIDCR director Dr. Martha Somerman (r) offers food for the mind as well as the body—with NIAMS clinical fellow Dr. Vivek Thumbigere, she describes the effects of osteogenesis imperfecta, a heritable bone disorder, on periodontal tissues in mouse models of OI. At right, with NIDCR research fellow Dr. Fnu Aomin, Somerman offers what she called “precision-designed, molar- and incisor-shaped sugar cookies—results not reproducible.”

“Two years ago, we began thinking about the kind of intramural program we would like to fashion over the next 10 years,” Gottesman explained. “One important aspect of that was what kind of science would we be doing, what kind of resources did we need, what kind of approaches did we need to do that science. So, this is a chance not only to highlight exciting research within the intramural program but also to kick off the implementation of what will be a 10-year effort…We particularly focused on the special features of the Intramural Research Program that we should be exploiting, that we should be emphasizing, that we should be reinforcing in any way we possibly could.”

Gottesman describes the rich history of the NIH Intramural Research Program and its long-term plan for the next decade.
Gottesman describes the rich history of the NIH Intramural Research Program and its long-term plan for the next decade.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins introduced day 2’s plenary session, “Responding to Public Health Emergencies,” particularly the Ebola outbreak crisis over the last year. He emphasized “the absolutely central role” NIH had (and continues to have) in treating patients both in Africa and at the Clinical Center in addition to establishing initial vaccine research in Africa and providing human resources and support in other areas such as infrastructure-building. Collins also briefly mentioned other global disasters that have drawn NIH’s help and research response over the last few years, including the Japan earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Nuclear Plant accident, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Katrina.

‘Whole Greater Than Amazing Parts’

Plenary 3 on Sept. 18 discussed “Chronic Inflammation.” That session, Gottesman said, illustrated “our capacity to attack really complicated problems by working together across institutes and centers, and by harnessing the enormous talent we have here, in this case in immunology. There are several hundred immunologists on this campus and we are sure that the whole working on the problem together will be greater than the sum of the individual amazing parts.”

Rounding out festival activities were 6 workshops organized to explore extraordinary opportunities in areas of general interest across NIH. In addition, more than 500 posters were displayed. Also new for 2015 was a special poster session arranged by the NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity introducing 28 early-career scientists from across the country in the hopes that some of them would be recruited to spend part of their careers at NIH.

On a panel discussing how NIH responds to public health emergencies are (from l) NLM’s Dr. David Lipman, Dr. Pamela Collins of NIMH, NIAID’s Dr. Cliff Lane and director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum.

On a panel discussing how NIH responds to public health emergencies are (from l) NLM’s Dr. David Lipman, Dr. Pamela Collins of NIMH, NIAID’s Dr. Cliff Lane and director Dr. Anthony Fauci, and NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum.

Tours, an NIH Library open house, the Technical Sales Association tent show and a lunch were also part of the festivities. You can catch the full plenary sessions archived by date online at videocast.nih.gov.


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