NIH Press Release
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Friday, October 31, 1997
Robert Bock
(301) 496-5133

NICHD Scientist, NICHD Grantees Among Presidential Early Career Award Winners

A scientist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and two scientists funded by the NICHD are among the 60 young researchers to receive the second annual Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers.

The Presidential Awards were established by President Clinton in February, 1996 and are intended to help meet the Administration's goals of producing the finest scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century and maintaining U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific research. The awards recognize young scholars, their research contributions, their promise, and their commitment to broader societal goals.

David A. Wassarman, PhD, of NICHD's Intramural Cell Biology and Metabolism Branch, received the award for the development of a novel set of genetic screens that identify each of the many components of the complex mechanism that regulates gene expression in response to signals received by the cells. Dr. Wassarman's work has provided important insight into the processes by which genes are activated at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, and for the appropriate duration.

Patrick J. Stover, PhD, Cornell University, a grantee of NICHD's Endocrinology, Nutrition and Growth Branch, received the award for his discovery in rat liver of an enzyme which chemically cleaves the vitamin folate into two smaller molecules. The finding has important implications for the study of neural tube defects, a devastating class of birth defects that occur as a result of folate deficiency or abnormalities in folate metabolism. This line of investigation could also contribute to the identification of new drugs useful in cancer chemotherapy.

Juan Izpisua-Belmonte, PhD, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a grantee of NICHD's Developmental Biology, Genetics and Teratology Branch, received the award for his work on genes controlling formation of the limb. Dr. Izpisua-Belmonte's work with chick embryos using genes originally discovered in the fruit fly, Drosophila, has contributed enormously to the understanding of how vertebrate limbs normally develop, as well as points out the commonalties of development between vertebrates and invertebrates. His work has enormous implications for the study of a variety of syndromes affecting limb development in humans.

In all, 10 government agencies join together annually to nominate promising scientists and engineers for the awards. Those selected receive funding over a five-year period to further their research and broadly advance science. The supporting Federal agencies are: the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

The Awards Colloquium will begin on November 3rd at 2 pm in the Old Executive Office Building, at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. The Awards Ceremony will begin at 3:30 pm.