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February 24, 2017

NIGMS Adds Two New Scientific Staff

Dr. Luis Cubano Dr. Hongwei Gao
Dr. Luis Cubano (l) and Dr. Hongwei Gao recently joined the NIGMS staff as program directors.

NIGMS recently hired two new program directors.

Dr. Luis Cubano is a program director in the Division of Training, Workforce Development and Diversity. He administers the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement program for students from underrepresented groups as well as other diversity-focused institutional research training grants.

Prior to joining NIGMS, he served as professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies at the Universidad Central del Caribe, in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Cubano earned a B.S. in cellular and molecular biology from Tulane University, an M.S. in biology from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a Ph.D. in biology from Kansas State University. He conducted postdoctoral research at Tulane University Medical School.

Dr. Hongwei Gao is a program director in the Center for Research Capacity Building, where he manages Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence and IDeA infrastructure for clinical and translational research grants. He comes to NIGMS from Boston, where he was an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a senior scientist in the department of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Gao earned his M.D. in a joint 8-year program of Nankai University and Tianjin Medical University, in China. He earned his Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology at the University of Michigan.

NINDS Alumnus Hessie Mourned

Bettie Jean Hessie
Bettie Jean Hessie

Bettie Jean Hessie, 78, who retired from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 1999 after 34 years as a medical writer and consultant, passed away peacefully on Dec. 21, 2016.

Born in Comus, Md., she graduated cum laude from American University with a B.S. in distributed science-biology.

During her NIH career, she worked with authors and editors in the publication of more than 40 books in biomedical sciences and edited more than 1,000 journal articles, book chapters and abstracts, speeches and brochures. She also taught biomedical writing to NIH scientists from around the world.

Hessie also co-authored a book on antiepileptic drugs. She served on the epilepsy advisory committee and helped organize the 15th Epilepsy International Symposium in D.C., in 1983.

She was a member of the American Medical Writers Association, Council of Biology Editors and the Washington Society for the History of Medicine.

In retirement, Hessie volunteered at Arena Stage and WAMU-FM. She also enjoyed traveling and attending National Symphony Orchestra concerts.

Former Medical Officer Cooney Mourned

Bettie Jean Hessie
Retired public health officer Dr. David A. Cooney

Dr. David A. Cooney, a retired public health officer who had a 34-year career at NIH (1964-1998), died Oct. 8, 2016, from prostate cancer. He was 78 and lived in Bethesda.

A native of Arlington and Scituate, Mass., he attended Boston College High School and received his B.A. degree in classics and pre-medical sciences from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 1959. He subsequently earned his M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1963. He spent a year in San Salvador, serving as a Public Health Service fellow in the department of microbiology at the Universidad de El Salvador.

After completing internship training in 1964 at Buffalo General Hospital in New York, he served as a senior investigator in the Laboratory of Toxicology at the National Cancer Institute from 1964 to 1969. After a 1-year postdoctoral fellowship in the department of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine, Cooney returned to NCI, serving as a staff scientist in the Laboratory of Toxicology from 1971 to 1976.

In 1977, he was appointed head of the biochemistry section in the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology, where he served until 1988. The last decade of his career at NCI was as a supervisory scientist in the Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry until his retirement in 1998.

Cooney spent most of his career studying anti-cancer and anti-HIV therapeutics. He studied the toxicology, pharmacology and biochemical pharmacology of both amino acid and nucleoside analogues.

Cooney’s research accomplishments from the late 1960s into the early 1980s established him as a leading scientist in the fields of pharmacology and toxicology, especially relating to various families of anti-cancer drugs.

Most notable are his work on asparagine metabolism, asparagine synthase mechanism of action and inhibition as antitumor therapy; the toxicology and antitumor activity of FDA-approved drugs such as cisplatin, bleomycin and streptozotocin; and mechanism of action and pharmacology of anti-HIV dideoxy nucleosides.

The work on anti-HIV nucleosides in the mid-1980s saw collaborations with such NCI scientists as Drs.Samuel Broder, Robert Yarchoan and Hiroaki Mitsuya. The results of Cooney’s research from the early HIV years until his retirement in 1998 labeled him as one of the few pioneers who identified the mode of action of numerous nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors.

Two of the drugs he studied—dideoxyiosine (didanosine, Videx, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and dideoxycytidine (Zalcitabine, Hivid, Hoffmann-La Roche)—were later approved by the FDA and used as parts of combination anti-HIV regimens. Cooney won a PHS service award in 1991 for his contributions to development of these agents.

According to coworkers, Cooney touched a lot of lives with his fierce intelligence, distinctive wit and personal charm. He was extremely generous with his time, spending countless hours mentoring the many students (who ranged in age from early high school to late college) that he continuously had as interns in his section.

One thing that all of his friends and colleagues would agree on, “There was never a dull moment when Dr. Cooney was around.” He kept the students and postdocs excited about their work, peppering them with questions to keep them on their toes while being spontaneous and unpredictable and keeping abreast of their lives outside the lab.

Cooney’s generosity extended to his community, where he often cared for and supported those in need who were well outside his circle of professional colleagues.

In addition to his outstanding scientific contributions, he was a true “Renaissance man”—an accomplished musician, composer and writer. On his students’ departure, Cooney often composed tributes to them, be it songs in a variety of musical genres (from jazz to rags to ballads) or poems rich with symbolism and heartfelt emotion.

“All of these traits made him a man who was brilliant yet selfless, frivolous yet focused, eccentric yet highly compassionate,” noted a longtime colleague. “He will be truly missed by all who knew him.”

Cooney is survived by sisters Mary Lou Manning of Rockville and Nancy Ryan of York Harbor, Maine; 19 nieces and nephews (and many more grand-nieces and nephews). Memorial contributions may be made to the NCI Gift Fund.

NIDA’s Rapaka Receives Service Award

Dr. Rao Rapaka

NIDA’s Dr. Rao Rapaka received the 2016 Distinguished Service Award at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists annual meeting and exposition held recently in Denver. This is the first time a NIDA staffer has received the award, which recognizes distinguished service in advancing the pharmaceutical sciences through service to the AAPS.

Rapaka is chief of the Chemistry, Pharmacology and Physiological Systems Research Branch in the Division of Neuroscience and Behavior and has served as chair of the medicinal chemistry and drug design & discovery sections of AAPS. He has also served on its fellowship and program committees and journal editorial boards and has organized more than 30 AAPS symposia and AAPS-NIDA symposia. He was elected a fellow of AAPS as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Rapaka has received several other awards from national and international societies, including the International Conference on the Science of Botanicals, International Cannabinoid Research Conference, International Narcotic Research Conference and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (Michael Morrison Award).

Durrant Named Director of CSR Division

Dr. Valerie Durrant

The Center for Scientific Review has named Dr. Valerie Durrant to become director of its Division of AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences. She has been chief of CSR’s population sciences and epidemiology integrated review group since 2011.

Durrant will coordinate five integrated review groups, which review NIH grant applications for scientific merit: AIDS and related research; biobehavioral and behavioral processes; health care delivery and methodologies; population sciences and epidemiology; and risk, prevention and health behavior.

She is chair of CSR’s best practices committee and served as acting director of CSR’s Division of Neuroscience, Development and Aging in 2015. Durrant previously served as scientific review officer for the social sciences and population studies panel B study section.

Before coming to NIH, Durrant was a program officer at the National Academies’ committee on population. She directed studies on the transition from childhood to adulthood in developing countries that assessed the benefits of investing in youth in these countries.

Durrant holds a Ph.D. in sociology with an emphasis in demography from the University of Maryland. She was a Berelson postdoctoral fellow at the Population Council, conducting research on adolescents and on the influence of the status of women on infant and child mortality and children’s schooling in Pakistan.

Rubinstein Named Chief of CSR Review Group

Dr. Amy Rubinstein

The Center for Scientific Review has selected Dr. Amy Rubinstein as new chief of the oncology 1 basic translational integrated review group.

She has been scientific review officer for CSR’s gene and drug delivery systems study section, which reviews grant applications across several institutes, with over a third focusing on cancer research.

“We are pleased that Dr. Rubinstein will take charge of this key review group,” said CSR director Dr. Richard Nakamura. “Since coming to CSR in 2008, she has proven to be a remarkable leader and mentor.”

He noted that she excelled as CSR’s coordinator for the review of Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer applications, co-chair of the trans-NIH SBIR shorten-the-cycle committee and leader of CSR’s assessment of direct ranking and half-point scoring as alternatives to the current system for scoring grant applications.

Rubinstein earned a Ph.D. in biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying the molecular genetics of pollen development in maize. She did her postdoctoral research at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she used the zebrafish model to advance research in multiple therapeutic areas, including angiogenesis in the context of cancer therapy. Rubinstein then helped form a start-up biotechnology company (Zygogen, LLC), which worked to design zebrafish assays for drug discovery. During her tenure there, she served as director and vice president of research.

NIMHD Adds to Scientific Staff
Dr. Benyam Hailu Dr. Beda Jean-Francois Dr. Andrew Louden Dr. Priscah Mujuru Dr. Richard Palmer Dr. Meryl Sufian
New scientific staff members at NIMHD include (from l) Dr. Benyam Hailu, Dr. Beda Jean-Francois, Dr. Andrew Louden, Dr. Priscah Mujuru, Dr. Richard Palmer and Dr. Meryl Sufian.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities recently added six employees to its scientific staff.

Dr. Benyam Hailu has joined the Division of Scientific Programs as a medical officer. He comes to NIMHD with experience as a general medical practitioner, project supervisor and researcher for a non-profit AIDS research project in sub-Saharan Africa.

He has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., and at the Food and Drug Administration. Hailu received his M.D. from Addis Ababa University and his M.P.H. from Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, with a concentration in infectious diseases.

Dr. Beda Jean-Francois has joined the Division of Scientific Programs as a health scientist administrator. She oversees a portfolio of research and training grants in the Clinical and Health Sciences Research Branch. Prior to joining NIMHD, she was a social science analyst in the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at SAMHSA.

Prior to that, she held faculty posts at the public school and university levels and served as a research psychologist with the Department of Defense. Her qualifications include a Ph.D. in applied developmental psychology and a master’s degree in education—specifically learning and reading disabilities.

Dr. Andrew Louden is a program officer working in clinical and health services research within the Division of Scientific Programs, where he will help manage and develop the growing and diverse research portfolio.

Before coming to NIMHD, Louden worked for 7 years as a scientific review officer at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, where his responsibilities included providing policy direction and coordination for the planning and execution of the initial scientific and technical review of applications within the disciplines of health services research. He received his undergraduate degree in biology from Swarthmore College in 1990, and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in genetics from Howard University in 1998 and 2001, respectively.

Dr. Priscah Mujuru is a health scientist administrator in the Division of Scientific Programs, Clinical and Health Services Research Programs. Prior to joining NIMHD, she was an SRO at CSR and NICHD from October 2010 to January 2017. She earned a doctor of public health degree in epidemiology from the University of Pittsburgh, a master of public health degree in environmental health from Boston University, a B.Sc. in occupational hygiene from the University of the South Bank, England, and a bachelor of science in nursing degree from West Virginia University.

She also earned a nurse and midwifery state-registered education in England.

Mujuru is a board-certified occupational health nurse specialist and has collaborated with the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics to develop physical assessment tools for occupational health nurses. She has led programs that addressed a pipeline to health sciences careers in West Virginia youth from underserved and disadvantaged populations. She also led international projects in South Africa, Mozambique and Mali.

Dr. Richard Palmer joined the Scientific Review Branch in the Office of Extramural Research Administration as a health science administrator. He holds both a doctorate in public health and a J.D. degree and had been an associate professor and NIH-funded investigator in the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work at Florida International University.

In addition to serving as a scientific review officer, Palmer will contribute to OERA activities in extramural policy development and analyses and extramural scientific training and education, including the NIMHD Health Disparities Research Institute.

Dr. Meryl Sufian has joined the Integrative Biological and Behavioral Sciences Branch in the Division of Scientific Programs as a program officer. She came to NIMHD from the National Center on Advancing Translational Sciences, where she was a program director for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program.

Prior to that she worked in NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

Before joining NIH, Sufian conducted HIV prevention research and multi-site behavioral health intervention research with high-risk populations. She received a B.A. in sociology from Hunter College and a Ph.D. in medical sociology from the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

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