News Release

Monday, October 11, 2010

Five NIH leaders elected to the Institute of Medicine

The National Academy of Sciences today announced that five leaders at the National Institutes of Health have been elected to the Institute of Medicine. Election to the IOM is one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health.

The NIH officials elected are: Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS); Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); Ira H. Pastan, M.D., chief of the laboratory of cell biology, Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute; Thomas E. Wellems, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the laboratory of malaria and vector research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Carl Wu, Ph.D., chief of the laboratory of biochemistry and molecular biology, Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute.

They are among 65 new members and five foreign associates of the IOM, which is a national resource for independently informed analysis and recommendations of issues related to human health. With their election, members make a commitment to devote a significant amount of time as volunteers for IOM committees, which conduct a broad range of studies on health policy issues.

"We are delighted that the Institute of Medicine has recognized Drs. Berg, Birnbaum, Pastan, Wellems, and Wu for their outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service. These researchers and administrators have contributed consistently to the advancement of medicine, public health and research," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who had been elected to the IOM in 1991.

Jeremy M. Berg

Jeremy M. Berg became NIGMS director in November 2003. He oversees a $2 billion budget that funds basic research in cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology. The institute supports more than 4,500 research grants — about 10 percent of the grants funded by NIH as a whole — as well as a substantial amount of research training and programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce.

Prior to his appointment as NIGMS director, Berg directed the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he also served as professor and director of the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry.

Berg’s research focuses on the structural and functional roles that metal ions, especially zinc, have in proteins. He has made major contributions to understanding how zinc-containing proteins bind to the genetic material DNA or RNA and regulate gene activity. His work, and that of others in the field, has led to the design of metal-containing proteins that control the activity of specific genes. These tailored proteins are valuable tools for basic research on gene function, and such proteins could one day have medical applications in regulating genes involved in diseases, as well. Berg has also made contributions to our understanding of systems that target proteins to specific compartments within cells and to the use of sequence databases for predicting aspects of protein structure and function.

Berg received B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry from Stanford University in 1980 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 1985. He is a coauthor of more than 130 research papers and three textbooks, Principles of Bioinorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry (5th Edition and 6th Edition) and A Clinical Companion to Accompany Biochemistry.

His honors include a Presidential Young Investigator Award (1988-1993), the American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry (1993), the Eli Lilly Award for Fundamental Research in Biological Chemistry (1995), the Maryland Outstanding Young Scientist of the Year (1995), election as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow (2007), the Distinguished Service Award from the Biophysical Society (2009) and the Howard K. Schachman Public Service Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2011, presented in 2010). He also received teaching awards from both medical students and graduate students and served as an advisor to the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association since its founding.

Linda S. Birnbaum

As NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) director, Linda S. Birnbaum oversees a budget of $850 million that funds biomedical research programs to discover how the environment influences human health. These research efforts focus on disease prevention and encompass training, education, technology transfer, and community outreach. The NIEHS supports more than 1,000 research grants.

A native of New Jersey, Birnbaum received her M.S. and Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Illinois, Urbana. A board- certified toxicologist, Birnbaum has served as a federal scientist for nearly 31 years — the first 10 of those at NIEHS — as a senior staff fellow at the National Toxicology Program, then as a principal investigator and research microbiologist, and finally as a group leader for the Institute’s Chemical Disposition Group. She then spent 19 years at the Environmental Protection Agency, where she directed the largest division focusing on environmental health research.

Birnbaum has received numerous awards, including the Women in Toxicology Elsevier Mentoring Award, the Society of Toxicology Public Communications Award, EPA's Health Science Achievement Award and Diversity Leadership Award, and 12 Science and Technology Achievement Awards, which reflect the recommendations of EPA's external Science Advisory Board, for specific publications. She was recently elected to the Collegium Ramazzini, received an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Rochester, and the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Illinois. She is the author of more than 700 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, abstracts, and reports. Birnbaum’s research focuses on the pharmacokinetic behavior of environmental chemicals; mechanisms of actions of toxicants, including endocrine disruption; and linking of real-world exposures to effects. She is also an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health, the Toxicology Curriculum, and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as in the Integrated Toxicology Program at Duke University.

Birnbaum is also an active member of the scientific community. She was vice-president of the International Union of Toxicology, the umbrella organization for toxicology societies in more than 50 countries; former president of the Society of Toxicology, the largest professional organization of toxicologists in the world; former chair of the Division of Toxicology at the American Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics; and former vice president of the American Aging Association.

Ira H. Pastan

Pastan is chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National Cancer Institute, a position he started in 1970. He obtained his B.S. from Tufts University in 1953. He received his M.D. from Tufts University 1957, completed his residency training at Yale University and conducted research training in endocrinology at NIH with Earl Stadtman starting in 1959. By 1970 he had risen to position of Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the National Cancer Institute. He currently holds this same title and is working on various Immunotoxin Therapies.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the AAAS and the American Society of Microbiology. As of July 2007, he has coauthored 1060 scientific publications, making him one of today's most prolific scientific researchers. In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious International Antonio Feltrinelli Prize for Medicine.

Thomas E. Wellems

Thomas E. Wellems is perhaps best known for discovering the gene responsible for resistance to the antimalarial drug chloroquine and for his role in developing the first rapid diagnostic test for malaria. Wellems earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. Following an internal medicine residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined NIAID's Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases. He headed the malaria genetics section in the NIAID Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research (LMVR), a position he still holds today, for several years before he was appointed chief of LMVR in 2002.

Wellems' major areas of research are drug responses, immune evasion, and disease mechanisms in malaria. His specific interests include antimalarial drug resistance and determinants of clinical outcome after treatment, malaria protection conferred by human hemoglobinopathies and red cell polymorphisms, antigenic variation and immune evasion by malaria parasites, and factors affecting Plasmodium falciparum virulence in humans and in animal models of malaria.

Wellems is a frequent lecturer, consultant, and reviewer. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a past president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine, and serves on a number of advisory committees for foundations and public-private partnerships, including the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

Carl Wu

Wu is the chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute, where he and his team study gene regulation, which ultimately can help lead to preventing and treating cancer. Wu received his Ph.D. in 1979 at Harvard University. After moving to the NCI in 1982, Wu began investigating the biochemical mechanism of chromatin remodeling. In 1994, his group reported the discovery of an ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling activity in cell-free extracts, and in the following year, purification and characterization of the responsible enzyme, named NURF. This work has been noted by Nature as a milestone in the field of gene expression over the past 50 years. Wu has been recognized by a number of prize awards and by election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Sinica, and the National Academy of Sciences.

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