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April 21, 2017
Milestones

Caspi Named Chief of NEI Laboratory of Immunology

Dr. Rachel Caspi
Dr. Rachel Caspi

Dr. Rachel Caspi has been named chief of the NEI Laboratory of Immunology.

A longtime member of the NIH intramural community, Caspi is among the foremost authorities on uveitis—an autoimmune disease of the eye that accounts for up to 15 percent of blindness in developed nations. Her uveitis mouse model has been adopted worldwide, enabling significant contributions to understanding of the disease. Her studies of basic mechanisms driving uveitis have informed the design of clinical trials for uveitis.

In 2015, she showed that intestinal bacteria are capable of triggering uveitis by a mechanism involving recognition of a surrogate bacterial antigen, a finding with implications for other autoimmune disorders.

“Dr. Caspi has repeatedly introduced new concepts, challenged established dogmas and shifted paradigms—driving the uveitis field forward and creating new lines of inquiry,” said NEI scientific director Dr. Sheldon Miller.

Caspi holds a Ph.D. from Bar Ilan University, Israel. She joined NEI in 1984 as a visiting fellow in the Laboratory of Immunology. Since 1990, she has served as chief of the lab’s section on immunoregulation. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She served as deputy chief of the Laboratory of Immunology from 1999 until she became acting chief in 2016.

“Throughout her career, Dr. Caspi has been devoted to training, earning a reputation as one of the NEI’s most outstanding and effective mentors,” said Miller. She has mentored more than 60 trainees.

Caspi has authored or coauthored more than 230 publications. She is the recipient of the 2010 Friedenwald award and the 2012 Alcon Research Institute award.

NIGMS Gains Science Education Coordinator, Program

Dr. Alexis Simpkins
Dr. L. Tony Beck

Dr. L. Tony Beck recently joined NIGMS as a program director in the Center for Research Capacity Building. In that role, he will continue to direct the Science Education Partnership Award program and other educational and diversity pipeline efforts that target pre-K to grade 12 students.

Prior to joining NIGMS, Beck managed science education projects in the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs and in the former National Center for Research Resources. During his 11 years at NCRR, he also managed Clinical and Translational Science Awards and human embryonic stem cell infrastructure programs. He started his NIH career in 2000 as a scientific review officer at NIAAA. For the decade before that, he worked for three different biotechnology companies in Maryland.

Beck earned B.A. and M.S. degrees in biological sciences at the University of California, Riverside, and a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from the University of California, Irvine. He conducted postdoctoral research in Denver at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research in Denver.

ORF Project ‘Big Gun’ Kutlak Retires

If the many major research buildings he honchoed to completion on the NIH campus and Ft. Detrick are as fun to work in as he had making them, then Frank Kutlak can consider his 25 years as an architect and project manager at the Office of Research Facilities a rousing success.

The string of big buildings came to an end recently when Kutlak retired. No more will he rise before dawn to oversee the pouring of concrete at 4 a.m., as he did when his favorite project, the Louis Stokes Laboratories, was under construction in the late 1990s. On that job, he gleefully inspected every detail from the sand at the bottom of the caissons dug to support the structure to the last beam topping the roof, where he was instrumental in having an extra story built atop what was originally a 5-story building.

At a sendoff Mar. 30 in the Cloister, ORF Director Dan Wheeland credited Kutlak with delivering “exceptional projects, nothing ever boring or routine…I can’t imagine NIH functioning without those facilities. The campus would look much different.”

Kutlak’s projects, in addition to the Stokes Labs, included the occupancy phase of the Silvio O. Conte Bldg.; the NIAID Integrated Research Facility at Ft. Detrick; the John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center II; the ARC, a study for a future animal center on the south side of campus; and the design phase of the renovation of Bldg. 10’s E-wing, which was Kutlak’s last official duty.

“Frank earned the status of being a big gun,” said Wheeland. “He never let us down. He is an authentic person who always lets you know what he thinks. We always counted on him to tell us what he thought and we appreciated his expert advice…Frank gave it all he had. He has been instrumental in making NIH such a great institution.”

Frank Kutlak proudly displays commemorative T-shirt marking the “topping out” of Bldg. 50 (Stokes Laboratories) on May 13, 1999. “I’m having fun,” he said that day. “I feel sort of like the father of the bride.” Kutlak (l) with Rep. Louis Stokes at the dedication ceremony for the official Stokes portrait in March 2013
At left, Frank Kutlak proudly displays commemorative T-shirt marking the “topping out” of Bldg. 50 (Stokes Laboratories) on May 13, 1999. “I’m having fun,” he said that day. “I feel sort of like the father of the bride.” PHOTO: RICH MCMANUS At right, Kutlak (l) with Rep. Louis Stokes at the dedication ceremony for the official Stokes portrait in March 2013

PHOTO: ERNIE BRANSON

“I have been very fortunate that I got to do all of these big projects,” said Kutlak. “It’s never one person [who should be credited]…I’ve just been driving the bus. There were hundreds of hardworking ORS/ORF service providers, consultants, IC staff and scientists on the bus.”

Kutlak, a native of Buffalo, arrived on campus in June 1991. He had begun his career in the desert of Saudi Arabia, where for 6 years he worked for ARAMCO. Returning to the United States in 1983, he took a job with HOK Architects in Manhattan, which is where he met his wife, Barbara Thompson, a Clinical Center nurse for the past 31 years.

They spent two years in New York, then Kutlak took a job with Marriott Hotels in Bethesda that lasted 6 years. “I managed the design and construction of 75 of the 200 Marriott Courtyards,” he recalls. “I came to NIH 6 months after the bottom fell out of the hotel market.”

His first assignment at NIH was organizing occupancy of then-new Bldg. 49, the Conte Bldg. At one point, ORF had to inform two floors of IC scientists that they would not be moving into 49 as planned because then-NIH director Dr. Bernadine Healy had decided a highly regarded new recruit from the University of Michigan would get their space in the new building—it was Dr. Francis Collins.

Kutlak’s next job was the one that made him proudest.

“Lou Stokes was very nice to me,” said Kutlak, “very generous.” Kutlak took pleasure in touring Bldg. 50 as it was under construction with Stokes and his wife Jay.

Their relationship did not end when the building was complete.

“We kept in touch,” said Kutlak. “He invited me to various luncheons and to the opening of the Howard University Health Sciences Library, which is also named in his honor.”

A resident of Laytonsville, Md., Kutlak says he won’t miss the early morning drives down 270. He and Barbara enjoy their three Dobermans and a 7-acre property on which Kutlak grew 95 tomato plants of various kinds last summer, in addition to lettuce, spinach and other vegetables. He has high hopes for this year’s crop, having built a seedling incubator, with special heating and lighting, over the winter to raise his own plants from seed.

“I’ve been getting into it,” he said. “It’s kind of fun.”

He had grown up in the city of Buffalo, but his family owned 13 acres outside of town, near the site of what is now the University of Buffalo. “I basically sat on my father’s lap” as he worked the property with an old Farmall tractor, Kutlak remembers.

Five years ago he found, on the Internet, a 1947 Farmall tractor on sale in Virginia. He bought it and now mows his own 4-acre field with the bush-hog attachment on the tractor’s rear. He belongs to and manages Facebook pages for two antique tractor clubs, which he joined in order to learn more about maintaining his rig.

“It’s a beast, it’s a bear,” he said of the 70-year-old tractor, “but it runs wonderfully.”

“Frank is leaving us because his exotic tomatoes await him,” concluded Wheeland. “How could that be more interesting than NIH projects?...We thank you for an amazing journey.”

A Kutlak anecdote about his experience in Saudi Arabia could serve as the defining metaphor for the projects that occupied him at NIH: “Every time they drilled for water, they hit oil.”

He hopes to keep in touch with people he worked with over the years and can be reached at kutlakf@verizon.net.

Kester Heads NCCIH Policy Office

Mary Beth Kester

Mary Beth Kester is the new director of the Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation at NCCIH. She came to NCCIH from NIAMS, where she was a health policy analyst whose duties included overseeing the Science Policy and Planning Branch staff. Prior to working at NIAMS, she was a health policy analyst at NIBIB and NIDDK. Kester holds a master of science degree in toxicology from the University of Maryland.

PHOTO: BRYAN EWSICHEK

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