|Vol. LXIX, No. 7|
NIGMS recently filled two vacancies on its senior staff.
Dr. Erica Brown is deputy director of the Division of Extramural Activities. She helps develop and oversee grant policies and procedures and assists NIGMS officials in formulating institute programs and objectives.
Brown first came to NIH in 2003 as a postdoctoral fellow at NIAID. She then worked as a scientific review officer at NIAID, ran the NIH AREA Program, and, just prior to joining NIGMS, served as director of the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts.
Brown earned her B.S. in biochemistry from Elizabethtown College and her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Stephanie Older is new chief of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison. She will determine the best ways for the institute to communicate with its audiences, which include the public, the scientific community, students and teachers, the media and policymakers. She oversees the office’s content, including online and print resources and social media products; advises NIGMS staff on communications strategies; and fosters relationships with scientific societies, media outlets and other stakeholder groups.
Older comes to NIGMS from NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications, where she most recently served as deputy chief of the Public Information and Liaison Branch. She is trained both in communications (she earned a B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications) and in law (her J.D. is from the University of Baltimore School of Law).
Prior to joining NIH, she worked as a media liaison for the National Breast Cancer Coalition and as an attorney-advisor in the Office of Administrative Law Judges, U.S. Department of Labor.
Dr. Alexis Simpkins, a clinical vascular neurology fellow in the Stroke Branch of the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, recently won the first prize Progress and Innovation Award from the journal Stroke. The award honors Simpkins as the first author of the manuscript titled “Identification of Reversible Disruption of the Human Blood–Brain Barrier Following Acute Ischemia.” She completed this project with Dr. Richard Leigh, an assistant clinical investigator in the NINDS neuro vascular brain imaging unit.
“In the study, we used a novel imaging method on a unique dataset to ask a question that previously could not have been addressed in humans—is blood-brain barrier disruption reversible in humans?” explained Simpkins. “With this knowledge, we may be able to find a way to manipulate the blood-brain barrier and facilitate new approaches to acute stroke treatment.” The blood-brain barrier is a network of tightly connected cells that prevents substances from the blood from passing freely into the brain.
According to the Stroke web site, the award is “a visible and effective way of encouraging new paths, new methods and new ways of thinking” and is made possible by funding from the American Heart Association, American Stroke Association and Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Simpkins received the award at the International Stroke Conference in Houston earlier this year.
Simpkins earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Augusta State University, Georgia, in 2001, and her M.D.-Ph.D. degree in medicine and vascular biology at the Medical College of Georgia in 2010. After completing her neurology residency training at Johns Hopkins University in 2014, she joined the NINDS Stroke Branch as a vascular neurology fellow and later served as chief vascular neurology fellow from 2015 to 2016.
Simpkins is also currently working with Dr. John Hallenbeck, chief of the Stroke Branch, and Dr. Larry Latour, a staff scientist in the stroke diagnostics and therapeutics section, on blood transcriptome and magnetic resonance imaging biomarkers of acute ischemic stroke.
Biomarkers are objective ways to measure a disease process. A transcriptome is a collection of gene readouts present in a cell.
Using advanced transcriptome analysis with next-generation RNA sequencing of mRNA and microRNA in patients who have had MRIs prior to and after acute ischemic stroke, the research team hopes to find biomarkers that can identify new therapeutic targets and broaden treatment options for patients.—Shannon E. Garnett
Dr. Amy Donahue considers her 26 years spent at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders as the perfect job and attributes that to her love of research and her collaborators and colleagues at NIH, in the research community, professional organizations and numerous federal agency partnerships.
At the end of March, Donahue retired from her dual roles as deputy director of the institute’s Division of Scientific Programs and coordinator of the Hearing and Balance/Vestibular Sciences Program.
Before coming to NIH, Donahue, who received her Ph.D. in speech and hearing sciences from the University of Tennessee, worked as a hearing conservation consultant for 5 years at the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency. She provided guidance to the Army’s preventive medicine program in noise-induced hearing loss and hearing conservation for both active duty military personnel as well as civilians.
Donahue’s expertise has been a driving force behind the research portfolio of NIDCD’s hearing and balance extramural program. Her leadership facilitated decades of research on noise-induced and age-related hearing loss, cochlear implants, hearing aids and intervention strategies for infants and children with hearing loss.
Donahue’s many career achievements have included her long history of supporting research efforts to improve treatment options for infants and children with hearing loss, as well as adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
In 2016, Donahue was honored with both the NIDCD Award of Excellence and the NIH Director’s Award for her many years of outstanding service.
The Hearing Loss Association of America, a patient advocacy organization, recognized her contributions with the James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., Award in 2016 for furthering scientific research in the field of hearing loss, especially in the promotion of accessible and affordable hearing health care.
Her many contributions to hearing and balance research were also recognized by the American Academy of Audiology, which awarded her the 2017 Career Award in Hearing, and by the Association for Research in Otolaryngology as well as the American Auditory Society, both of which presented her with a certificate of appreciation for her leadership.
“Her forward-thinking attitude, creativity, energy, commitment and willingness to take calculated risks to help medical advances reach the patient in a more timely fashion have been invaluable assets,” said Dr. Judith Cooper, NIDCD deputy director and director of the Division of Scientific Programs. “Moreover, Amy has always provided honest, insightful input and guidance to any and all. She will be greatly missed.”
Dr. Kelly King, an NIDCD research audiologist in the Clinical Center’s audiology unit, has assumed on an interim basis many of Donahue’s responsibilities.
Five new members joined the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council.
Dr. Michael Boninger is chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. His work includes regeneration of muscle tissue and using stem cell biology and exercise to spur regenerative processes.
Col. Teresa Brininger is director of the Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. She oversees planning, budgeting and execution of Army, Defense Health Program and Congressional Special Interest funds directed toward rehabilitative and regenerative medicine research.
Dr. Catherine Gordon is a pediatric endocrinologist and adolescent health specialist whose research focuses on how nutrition influences bone health, with a particular interest in adolescence and young adulthood. In 2005, she received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her studies examining bone loss in adolescent girls with eating disorders.
Dr. Clifford Tabin is professor and chair of the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Throughout his career, he has investigated the genetic regulation of vertebrate development by combining classical methods of experimental embryology with modern molecular and genetic techniques.
Alyce Thomas is a nutrition consultant in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J. Her focus is on working with and caring for high-risk pregnant women, especially those with diabetes.