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Environmental Factor, February 2013

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Hrynkow named to head network of viral specialists

By Eddy Ball

Sharon Hrynkow, Ph.D.

Among Hrynkow’s honors and awards are the Presidential Rank Award for Senior Executive Service and Royal Norwegian Order of Merit Award, as well as her election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), chairperson of the AAAS Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Former NIEHS Associate Director Sharon Hrynkow, Ph.D., was appointed in December 2012 as president of the nonprofit Global Virus Network (GVN) of Baltimore. Prior to joining GVN, Hrynkow served as counselor and senior scientist in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State and as senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs from 2010 to 2012. She also held leadership positions at NIH from 2000 to 2009.

According to a GVN press release announcing her appointment, Hrynkow will grow and diversify the organization’s funding base, forge new ties with public and private sector groups, and work with international scientific teams to implement research and training paradigms to meet GVN goals. Among her first priorities are the expansion of fellowship and exchange programs among GVN’s 30 centers of excellence in more than 20 countries, and the establishment of seed funding for innovative and international collaborative projects on high-risk pathogens.

“The need for a Global Virus Network linking the world’s greatest medical virologists is urgent,” Hrynkow was quoted as saying in the press release. “This is a time when the global community is becoming increasingly aware of the need for biomedical research and training in order to combat pandemic threats from viral disease. I could not be more thrilled to be asked by Bob Gallo and his esteemed colleagues to lead the GVN at such a critical time.”

Recognizing viral diversity and the need for a unified front

GVN was founded in 2011 by former National Cancer Institute lead researcher Robert Gallo, M.D., who became world famous in 1984 when he codiscovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of AIDS and developed the HIV blood test. In the years that followed his discovery, Gallo became increasingly convinced of the urgency of better understanding the more than 40 known classes of viruses that commonly infect humans. An important goal for him became more effectively supporting scientific collaboration and communication among experts worldwide.

"Since HIV/AIDS first appeared, I have strongly believed mankind will best be served if the world’s leading virologists are organized and better-equipped to deal with new and existing viral threats," Gallo said of the new network of virus specialists. GVN is comprised of centers of excellence in medical virology worldwide, each directed by a recognized expert in human viral diseases, including the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where Gallo has served as founding director since 1996.

Hrynkow at NIH

In her position at NIEHS from 2007 to 2009, Hrynkow served as global health lead and principal liaison with NIH in Bethesda, Md., as well as other U.S. government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and foreign governments with offices in Washington, D.C. She also helped raise awareness of the value of women scientists in the field of biomedical research, both in the U.S. and abroad (see text box).

Prior to her appointment at NIEHS by then Acting Director Samuel Wilson, M.D., Hrynkow served as deputy director of the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) from 2000 to 2007, and acting director of FIC from 2004 to 2006. FIC serves as a bridge between NIH and the greater global health community, by facilitating exchanges among investigators, providing training opportunities, and supporting promising research initiatives in developing countries to help build capacity for improving global health.

Hrynkow has also advised numerous nonprofit groups with an interest in global health, including Medical Missions for Children, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine.

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