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Institute Staff Supports Intramural Colleagues at Board Review

By Robin Mackar
January 2009

BSC Chairman Jack Keene, Ph.D.
Keene listened carefully as the investigators explained the rationale behind their respective study designs. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Epidemiology Branch Chief Dale Sandler, Ph.D.
Sandler was joined by other investigators in her praise for the contributions of trainees in the Epidemiology Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group
Surrounded by colleagues from throughout the Institute, Taylor, center, waited his turn at the podium. The public portion of the reviews gave NIEHS staffers an opportunity to learn more about the research in the Intramural program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Acting Scientific Director John Pritchard, Ph.D., right, and Deputy Scientific Director Steve Akiyama, Ph.D.
NIEHS Acting Scientific Director John Pritchard, Ph.D., right, and Deputy Scientific Director Steve Akiyama, Ph.D., were seated with Keene and NIEHS leadership during the presentations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Staff from throughout the Institute showed up to support their intramural colleagues June 15-16, as the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch and Fred Miller, M.D., Ph.D., presented their scientific findings and future plans during the Division of Intramural Research Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) Review of the two programs.

The open session began Monday morning in Rodbell auditorium with some brief introductory remarks by BSC Chairman Jack Keene, Ph.D., followed by a welcome from NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. Birnbaum thanked NIEHS staff for supporting their colleagues and thanked the Board for its hard work in evaluating the programs.

Miller, chief of the Environmental Autoimmunity Group, was the first investigator to present. He began by pointing out the uniqueness of his group, explaining that it is the only NIEHS scientific group in Bethesda and is housed in the NIH Clinical Center. He highlighted his work to define environmental and genetic risk and protective factors for systemic autoimmune diseases - especially muscle diseases known as myositis.

The second presentation was an overview of the Epidemiology Branch by Chief Dale Sandler, Ph.D. Sandler emphasized the prominent role that mentoring plays for the branch scientists and highlighted the fact that there has been a 35 percent increase in trainees in the Branch since 2005. Sandler also her work in two major efforts the NIEHS is involved in - the Agricultural Health Study ( and the Sister Study (

Next, Walter Rogan, M.D., presented the work being done in the Pediatric Epidemiology arm of the branch. He focused predominantly on his work on soy formula and phytoestrogens. He noted that the lack of standard methods for evaluating estrogen effects in infants led him and his collaborators to develop the three cross-sectional pilot studies that were part of the Study of Estrogen Activity and Development (SEAD) Soy Study.

The head of the Aging and Neuroepidemiology Group, Honglei Chen, M.D., Ph.D., then discussed his work in the area neurodegenerative disease. He discussed two major collaborative projects - the Parkinson's, Genes & Environment (PAGE) study, which is underway, and the Shanghai Parkinson's Study, scheduled to start soon.

Matthew P. Longnecker, M.D., Sc.D., highlighted his work as the lead in the Biomarker-based Epidemiology Group, with an emphasis on his work on environmental contaminants such as DDT and organophosphate insecticides.

Allen Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D. rounded out the first full day with his work in the area of reproductive epidemiology. He focused on his group's important contributions to understanding the role that genetic susceptibility and environmental factors such as maternal smoking, folic acid supplements and alcohol might play as risk factors for facial clefts in infants.

The second day began with an excellent overview by Stephanie London, M.D., Dr.P.H. who highlighted two major areas that her group, the Genetics, Environment and Respiratory Disease Group, focuses on - genetic susceptibility and early life exposures to respiratory and allergic diseases.

Donna Baird, Ph.D., who heads the Branch's Women's Health Group focused on her work on uterine fibroids, which affect more than 70 percent of women in the U.S. She discussed patterns of fibroid growth, as well as some of the risk factors associated with fibroids and possible preventive measures that may help prevent development of fibroids.

The final presentation was made by Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., head of the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group, who focused on gene-environment interactions in cancer. He also highlighted his group's methodological work, including the development of tools that will benefit the field of epidemiology and public health, by integrating complex data from genome-wide association studies and HapMap to better select gene variants for epidemiologic studies.

In addition to the formal presentations, more than two dozen posters were prepared and presented by staff scientists, research fellows, and pre-and post-doctoral trainees.

A written summary will be provided by the BSC within two months after the review.

(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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