NIEHS scientists showcased their research in Bethesda, Maryland, Sept. 13-15, as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Festival. Since 1986, the annual event has celebrated research conducted by NIH in-house, or intramural, scientists.
The festival reflects the depth of the intramural program across the 27 institutes and centers of NIH. Events included a ceremony to recognize the Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) recipients, including 17 from NIEHS, and a Future Research Leaders Conference focused on intramural career opportunities.
"NIEHS has always had a strong showing at the festival," said NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D. "It is a great opportunity to celebrate the outstanding science being conducted in the intramural research program — within NIEHS and across other institutes and centers. It also stimulates collaboration and synergy across all of NIH."
Interaction across NIH
NIEHS visiting fellow Monica Pillon, Ph.D., was one of six FARE recipients invited to present at a symposium session. Pillon, from the NIEHS Nucleolar Integrity Group, joined a panel on RNA biology and therapeutics. She spoke on the enzyme Las1 (see sidebar).
"Being selected to present alongside senior scientists in other institutes is an honor," Pillon said.
At the Future Leaders conference, Chandra Jackson, Ph.D., shared what drew her to NIEHS in January 2017 as a tenure-track investigator interested in health disparities. "The advice I gave was to consider the support and incredible access to resources at NIH," she said.
Posters show breadth of NIEHS research
Jackson also presented a poster. Her research showed that people across races and ethnic groups overestimate how much sleep they get. "Sleep is as important to overall health as physical activity and diet," she said. "Ours is the first study to compare self-reports to objective measures of sleep, and to look across race and ethnicity."
Payel Sil, Ph.D., presented a poster based on her research to understand cell-mediated contact dermatitis. Sil is a visiting fellow in the NIEHS Inflammation and Autoimmunity Group.
She valued the connections made during her first visit to the NIH campus. An animal tribute ceremony, at which scientists discussed the value of animal models to their research — in one case, to the health of a researcher’s own child — impressed her greatly. "Overall, it was inspiring," she said. "I realize I am in the right place to do research."
Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows' Career Development, said her poster generated interest — especially among fellows. It described data visualization tools and a taxonomy to understand postdoc careers. "We combined data mining, to locate people up to 15 years after they left NIEHS, with data science to visualize the patterns," she said.
In recent years, the scientific directors (SDs) and institute and center directors have also presented posters. "It was great to present next to Dr. Gottesman [Michael Gottesman, M.D., NIH deputy director for intramural research] and many of the other SDs," said Zeldin, who often attends to budget and personnel matters away from the laboratory. His poster was on the relative contributions of two enzymes, EPHX1 and EPHX2, to heart function.
On the lighter side
Scientific and career events were complemented by a bake-off, in which the directors exhibited their culinary skills.
Zeldin gamely transported home-baked cake to Bethesda. Unfortunately, his skills were not rewarded with the prize. Nevertheless, Zeldin said he enjoyed the lighter side of the event.
(Paula Whitacre is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)