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Fourth Annual Science Awards Day

By Eddy Ball
December 2006

David Schwartz
Event organizer Joel Abromowitz enjoyed remarks by Schwartz about the uncharacteristically formal attire worm by principal investigators on Science Awards Day. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Karen Adelman
Early Award Winner Karen Adelman's enthusiasm for her work was obvious throughout her presentation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ron Mason
Scientist of the Year Ron Mason explained the simplicity and power of immuno-spin trapping. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mahua Ghosh-Ghosal
Visiting Fellow Mahua Ghosh-Ghosal of the Laboratory of Structural Biology described her research during the poster session. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS research community gathered in Rodbell on November 2 to recognize the outstanding achievements of its youngest members and to honor winners of the Early Award, Scientist of the Year and Mentor of the Year. Monitored by Special Assistant to the Scientific Director Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., Science Awards Day is in its fourth year, and, for the first time, the steering committee invited winners of Summers of Discovery poster session back to participate.

NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz, M.D., delivered introductory remarks to attendees, emphasizing the importance of nurturing young investigators and recognizing their accomplishments. "This is a very important event for the institute," he said. "It recognizes the importance of the individual scientist here at NIEHS."

Scientific Director Lutz Birnbaumer, Ph.D., introduced Early Award Winner Karen L. Adelman, Ph.D., who presented her research "Stuck in the Starting Gates: Controlling Gene Expression by Regulating Early Transcription Elongation." Adelman and her colleagues have discovered previously unrecognized complexity in transcription patterns, especially among genes involved in response to environmental stimuli. These genes overlap interestingly with genes involved in immune response, genes which must react quickly to stimulus to protect the body. Some of the genes whose transcription patterns Adelman has elucidated are involved in HIV and the pathology of breast and upper gastrointestinal tract cancers, suggesting that her work may contribute to potential clinical applications.

With their colleagues and mentors in attendance, eight post-doctoral fellows gave fifteen-minute oral presentations each of studies on which they served as lead investigators. Two poster sessions took place mid-day, with a total of 73 poster abstracts on display accompanied by the post-doctoral lead researchers.

A panel of regional health scientists served as judges for the two scientist awards and poster awards. Along with selected NIEHS Fellows, DIR principal investigators and DIR staff scientists, the panel also judged platform presentations. The Board of Scientific Counselors chose the paper of the year among papers published in 2005, and the NIEHS Trainees Association selected the Mentor of the Year.

For the final presentation of the day, Schwartz introduced the winner of the Scientist of the Year Award, Research Chemist Ronald Mason, Ph.D., of the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry. Mason spoke on "Do It Yourself Detection of Protein and DNA Free Radicals in Organelles, Cells, and Tissues: A 30 Year Odyssey."

Mason has been involved in free radical research since the 1970s, when investigators first began detecting evidence of free radical formation related to human disease. Because free radicals are very unstable, detection was difficult and expensive, relying on highly sophisticated equipment, such as Electronic Spin Resonance, that required specially trained people to operate it. Mason's work developing an immuno-spin trapping methodology using standard laboratory platforms has opened free radical investigation to many more researchers. Using immuno-spin trapping, free radical investigation now can be performed with a much greater degree of sensitivity by virtually any laboratory scientist for a fraction of the cost of the previous methodology. The enhanced sensitivity has the further advantage of allowing researchers to use concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that are physiologically plausible.

2006 Science Day Award Winners

  • Mentor of the Year, Senior Investigator David S. Miller, Ph.D., Laboratory of Pharmacology and Chemistry
  • Best Poster Presentation in Environmental Biology, Saverio Gentile, Ph.D., Laboratory of Neurobiology, "SNP-dependent changes in protein kinase recognition sequences in ion channel proteins."
  • Best Poster Presentation in Environmental Diseases and Medicine, Yong-Sik Kim, Ph.D., Laboratory of Respiratory Biology, "The crosstalk between the Kr├╝ppel-like zinc finger protein Blis2 and Wnt/2-catenin signaling."
  • Best Poster Presentation in Environmental Toxicology, Wendy N. Jefferson, Ph.D., Laboratory of Molecular Toxicology, "Neonatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor genistein adversely affects fertilization rate and oocyte quality."
  • Best Oral Presentation, Paige J. Adams, Ph.D., Laboratory of Neurobiology, "Role of NMDA receptors in action potential generation: Consequences on ERK activation and gene transcription."
  • Paper of the Year, From the Laboratory of Signal Transduction, Lu NZ and Cidlowski JA 2005. Translational regulatory mechanisms generate N-terminal glucocorticoid receptor isoforms with unique transcriptional target genes. Mol Cell 18(3): 331-342.

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