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August 2011

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NIEHS hosts lecture series from scientific director final four

By Ian Thomas
August 2011

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda  Birnbaum, Ph.D.

As host of the talks, Birnbaum, above, did more than stand and wait, as she helped field questions from the audience. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D.

Zeisel fields questions about his presentation, titled “Metabolic Individuality May Underlie Differences in Responses to Environmental Exposures.” He presented the Hans L. Falk Memorial Lecture at NIEHS in October 2010. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sadis Matalon, Ph.D., Dr. Sc.

Matalon, above, is the principal investigator on two NIEHS grants, "Prevention and Treatment of Chlorine Gas Induced Injury to the Pulmonary System"( and "Novel Treatments of Chlorine Induced Injury to the Cardio-Respiratory Systems."( (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Darryl Zeldin, M.D.

Zeldin, whose experience spans the realms of basic and clinical research, focused his presentation, titled “My Vision for Leading the Division of Intramural Research,” on the challenges ahead for DIR. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS presented a four-part lecture series, between June 28 and July 6, of presentations by finalists in the search for its next scientific director. Each presentation was hosted by NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Among the Institute's senior leadership posts, this position's primary function involves the leadership and management of the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research (DIR). Comprised of four major programs, 11 laboratories, numerous scientific interest groups, and an annual budget of more than $100 million, this field-leading investigative body is recognized worldwide for its long-term, high-risk research across a wide array of environmental sciences.

Meet the Candidates

Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS

Currently serving as the Director of the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Zeisel boasts a strong background in both the medical and academic fields. Holding a Ph.D. in nutrition from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.D. from Harvard University, this renowned expert in metabolic research firmly believes that, for all of its past achievements and accolades, the key to DIR's future success ultimately rests on the innovative spirit and disciplinary diversity of the scientists who comprise it.

“Most major discoveries occur at the boundaries between disciplines when people who know very different things come together for a common goal,” Zeisel said of his plan to offer entrepreneurial style incentives to promote bold new cross-disciplinary research. “In combination, they find a way of seeing what was invisible to everyone else.”

Sadis Matalon, Ph.D., Dr. Sc. (Hon)( Exit NIEHS

A leading researcher in the field of pulmonary injury and an NIEHS grantee, Matalon's latest research studies the effects of chlorine exposure on the human respiratory system. Currently the vice chairman of research for the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he reported that ordinary antioxidants such as vitamin C have shown promise for countering the toxic effects of chlorine. Matalon was quick to attribute much of the project's success to the commitment of his research team.

“It's very important to involve people as much as possible and listen to their opinions,” explained Matalon. “Obviously, you won't always agree on everything but, at the end of the day, people feel vested in the overall goal when they feel as though they've contributed something toward achieving it.”

Darryl Zeldin, M.D.

Zeldin currently serves as DIR's acting clinical director and a principal investigator with the NIEHS Laboratory of Respiratory Biology. Boasting an extensive research resume with topics ranging from indoor allergens and asthma to the role of cyclooxygenases in lung and heart function, this graduate of Boston University who earned his M.D. at the Indiana University School of Medicine sees his established track record of success with NIEHS, as well as his abilities to lead and make tough financial decisions in today's tight economic climate, as being highly beneficial to DIR's long-term vision moving forward.

“As a leader, it's always important to keep an eye on the big picture,” he emphasized. “At the same time, a good leader isn't afraid to get into the weeds of some issues, like the budget for instance, in order to better understand the details of the situation.”

David Peden, M.D.( Exit NIEHS

A leader in the field of asthma and lung biology, Peden earned an M.D. from the West Virginia University, and an M.S. in Pharmacology and Toxicology. Presently the director of the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he also serves as a professor of pediatrics, in addition to serving as the deputy director for Child Health Research of the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium at UNC. Still, Peden admits that the notion of vacating his posts to head an organization the size of DIR is incredibly appealing.

“This agency has a wealth of skill sets and personnel experience to offer,” said Peden, an NIEHS grantee for his work on the effects of air pollutants on persons with lung disease. “Bringing those people together creates a real opportunity to investigate new ideas and develop data that will actually influence policy.”

The position of scientific director is central to the mission of the NIEHS, which seeks to reduce the burden of human illness and disability by understanding how the environment influences the development and progression of human disease.

(Ian Thomas is a writer/editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison)

David Peden, M.D.

Peden, who pointed to several collaborations with NIEHS investigators, is the principal investigator on the NIEHS grant, “Investigating gene x environment interaction using human exposures to O3 & LPS.”( (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

audience of employees watching the webcasts

Although the lecture series took place over a six-day period, attendance was good right up to the final talk. Many more employees watched the webcast of the talks at their desks or off-site. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

front row, left to right, Mike  Resnick, Ph.D. and David  Miller, Ph.D., behind them, Sheila Newton, Ph.D., center, Paul Jung, left rear, and  Rick Woychik, right

Seated on the front row, NIEHS Principal Investigator Mike Resnick, Ph.D., left, pondered a comment from Acting Scientific Director David Miller, Ph.D., right. Behind them, Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation Director Sheila Newton, Ph.D., center, Chief of Staff Paul Jung, left rear, and Deputy Director Rick Woychik, right rear, listened to the speaker. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Nigel Walker, Ph.D. and Ray Tice, Ph.D.

People from other divisions, such as Division of the National Toxicology Program scientists Nigel Walker, Ph.D., left, and Ray Tice, Ph.D., right, were also interested in hearing from the people who might be their new colleague. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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