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CSR's Branche Retires After 42 Years in Government

By Don Luckett

Colleagues from far and wide gathered in Wilson Hall recently to honor Dr. William C. Branche, Jr., on the occasion of his retirement from the Center for Scientific Review after 42 years of federal service. He had been scientific review administrator (SRA) of the bacteriology and mycology 2 study section in the infectious diseases and microbiology integrated review group since its inception in 1979. Past and present members of his study section applauded as Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld, CSR director, praised Branche for his 21 years of dedication to NIH and its mission. Current study section members then celebrated his career with cutting-edge presentations of their research data. Branche also received personal words of appreciation from Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, NIH acting director.

Dr. William C. Branche, Jr.

Branche began his career at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1958 as a virologist in the department of bacterial diseases. While there, he earned a master's degree in bacteriology from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in bacteriology from Catholic University. He became chief of the gastroenteritis study section and then chief of the Neisseria meningitidis serology section. He eventually was promoted to chief of the Infectious Disease Service Laboratory. Four years later, allergies forced him from the laboratory he loved, and he joined the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research headquarters as a health scientist administrator. During his 20-year tenure at Walter Reed, he published many articles on Escherichia coli, Shigella flexneri, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and meningococcal infections.

As SRA of the bacteriology and mycology 2 study section, Branche garnered respect from his colleagues for his expertise, commitment to science and good nature. Dr. Anne Morris Hooke of Miami University of Ohio spoke for many when she said, "Working with Bill and the members of the BM2 was by far the most enjoyable study section experience I have had...He is an inspiration to all scientists, young or old, black, white and brindle. He kept himself abreast of the technical aspects of our discipline by spending time each year — at his own expense — in someone's lab, he gave of himself as a mentor on the personal level and as a community volunteer in countless activities, he welcomed newcomers with open arms and made us all members of the BM2 family." He was recognized for many of his efforts in 1989 with an NIH Merit Award "for superior resourcefulness in fostering improved relationships with the extramural research community and within the NIH."

Beyond his study section, Branche will be remembered for his countless contributions to the NIH Extramural Associates Program, which encourages women's colleges and institutions with predominantly underrepresented minority student enrollments to increase their participation in NIH-funded research. He served on the EA advisory board for a number of years and eventually became its chairman. He conceived a development and training grant program to help institutions targeted by the EA program, and voluntarily managed the ad hoc committee that reviewed applications. In addition, Branche has mentored and lectured faculty members and administrators who participated in the EA residency program at NIH and in related conferences and workshops. Because of his abiding interest in the success of the program, he has offered to be an unofficial advisor/consultant.

Branche also has been an active member of the American Society for Microbiology. He served on its ad hoc committee for minority microbiologists, and for many years he has served on ASM's membership, manpower and underrepresented minorities committees. Branche's commitment to helping others also has extended to his community. He has coached boys and girls' soccer teams, judged local high school science fairs and served as president of the board of directors of the Pointer Ridge Swim and Racquet Club in Bowie, Md., for 12 years. In addition, he has served as a member of the board of directors of Queen Anne's School in Upper Marlboro for 6 years.

Branche plans an active retirement. He will be teaching at Prince George's Community College, where he feels he can do much to help nursing students get ahead. He also plans to keep fit by learning how to play golf and continuing to play tennis, swim and go bird-watching.

Letendre Retires After 32 Years at NIH

By Susan Sagusti

Before retiring recently as NHLBI deputy director of the Division of Blood Diseases and Resources (DBDR), biochemist Dr. Carol H. Letendre had contributed to remarkable changes in the field of hematology. Twenty of her 32 years at NIH were spent at NHLBI. During this time, she helped guide research that led to such advances as an understanding of the role of blood clots in heart attacks, a national blood safety program and new developments in the management of hemophilia and sickle cell disease.

Letendre also contributed to the development of NHLBI's stem cell research and stem cell transplantation programs. Her particular interests were treatment and cure of hemophilia and prevention and treatment of arterial thrombosis. Through her efforts, an international workshop in 1991 launched major initiatives in the application of gene therapy to the cure of hemophilia. She also spearheaded an institute-wide effort in the molecular genetics of arterial thrombosis that resulted in the funding of a $25 million research program in 2000.

Dr. Carol H. Letendre

Letendre first came to NIH to complete 1 year of postdoctoral research after earning a master's degree in nutritional science and a doctorate in biochemistry from Cornell University. She then completed 4 additional years of postdoctoral study in nucleic acid enzymology at the Institut de Biologie Physico-chimique in Paris, followed by a 9-month position as research associate at the University of Virginia's department of biology.

After returning to NIH to complete two staff fellowships — the first with NIAMS and the second with NICHD — Letendre was granted career status and became a research chemist in NICHD's Laboratory of Biomedical Sciences. Her areas of concentration included enzymes of nucleic acid metabolism, biochemistry of neurotransmitters and developmental biology.

Letendre became director of the NIA dermatology program in 1980, marking the start of a 20-year career as a health scientist administrator. In 1981, she joined NHLBI as executive secretary of the institute's research manpower review committee in the Division of Extramural Affairs. Two years later she became program administrator for the DBDR Hemophilia and Platelet Disorders Program, and in 1986 she was named the division's deputy director.

One of Letendre's many contributions has been to foster the development of researchers in blood disorders and transfusion. "The extramural community greatly appreciates Carol for her knowledge of the NIH grants system and her willingness to help investigators navigate the complex rules that are often associated with research programs," said Dr. Barbara Alving, DBDR director.

Letendre has been a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology since 1980. She has also been active in the American Society of Hematology, for which she developed a training workshop offered at the organization's annual meeting; the highly successful program has grown to include other NIH institutes that fund hematology research.

Throughout her NIH career, Letendre served on numerous NHLBI and trans-NIH professional committees. She was a founding member of NHLBI's molecular genetics group, which formulated and coordinated the institute's molecular genetics efforts over the past 10 years. As a member of the trans-NIH zebrafish coordinating committee, she was a 1999 recipient of the NIH Director's Award. The award acknowledged the group's extraordinary coordinated efforts among 18 NIH institutes and centers to develop funding initiatives for research using a single animal model.

"Regardless of the setting, Carol always shared with her colleagues both experience and a unique sense of humor," Alving added. "Her very positive influence will long be remembered both within the NIH and within the broader scientific community."

During her retirement, Letendre plans to pursue continuing interests in music, ornithology and adventure travel.

NCI's Percy Retires After 30 Years

Constance Lebair Percy recently announced her plans for retirement after 30 years of public service at NCI. She is an internationally known expert in cancer classification and nomenclature.

Before coming to NCI, she spent more than 20 years at the American Cancer Society, where, starting in 1947, she worked as a health statistician specializing in cancer nomenclature and classification. A pioneer in cancer classification, Percy began her career after receiving a B.S. in chemistry (1936) from Cornell University and an M.S. in public health (1937) from Columbia University.

Constance Lebair Percy

Sent to Memorial Hospital (Sloan Kettering) by ACS to help set up a cancer registry, Percy also helped prepare the Manual of Tumor Nomenclature and Coding, the first building block for cancer nomenclature. This was followed by an assignment as the only female working with several male pathologists on the committee for the reference manual Systematized Nomenclature for Pathology referred to as "SNOP" and later "SNOMED."

While at ACS, working with E. Cuyler Hammond and Larry Garfinkel, Percy did research resulting in one of the first studies linking smoking to lung cancer. Their research on cause of death listed on death certificates showed that the male subjects who smoked were more likely to die early. Percy said she naively believed this evidence would prompt the federal government to ban cigarette smoking. She is still waiting for this to happen.

In 1970, NCI recruited her to Bethesda to work on the 3rd National Cancer Survey that provided statistics on the incidence of cancer in the U.S. The present Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program eventually evolved. Working with the SEER cancer registries became Percy's major focus at NCI. She also contributed to the establishment of international cancer nomenclature with the International Classification of Diseases for Oncology(ICD-O).

While promoting use of the ICD-O manual, Percy embarked on an "around the world in 40 days" trip through Europe, northern Africa and Asia. This memorable journey included her enduring an overnight detention at the Cairo airport because the date on her smallpox vaccination was misunderstood. She also was active in the founding of the International Association of Cancer Registries (IARC) and, in 1971, attended the first IARC meeting in Tokyo.

At last year's annual IARC meeting in Thailand, Percy announced the publication of ICD-O-3, the third revision of international coding standard for cancer cases. The United States began coding cases using this standard on Jan. 1, 2001.

A living legend in the development of worldwide standards for cancer classification systems, Percy has received several awards and honors, including the most distinguished member of the National Cancer Registry Association award (1994), the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries' Calum Muir Memorial award for outstanding contribution in the field of cancer registration (1997), and two Public Health Service awards for superior service. She has also been an honorary member of IARC since 1993. Over 40 papers on topics such as cancer registration, classification and nomenclature of neoplasm, accuracy of death certificates, and medical nomenclature are included in her portfolio.

After half a century of contributing to lessening the burden of cancer, Percy looks forward to enjoying the life of a retiree. Short-term retirement plans include cleaning up her condo, then traveling to destinations such as California, Florida, Hawaii and England. In London, she will visit her daughter Norma Percy, a television producer. When the pool opens at her condo in Rockville this summer, she'll return and spend time with her other daughter, Connie Aaronson, a math department head and team leader in Montgomery County. Percy will also enjoy spending time with her two granddaughters, Debbie Aaronson, an actress in New York City, and Abby Aaronson, a recent health education graduate of the University of Maryland.

Once head of the NIH golf league when she golfed an under-100 game, Percy now chooses to watch the sport. Tennis also is now a spectator sport for her, after earlier years as an active player. In the future, when not traveling, she will be found wearing her favorite color — purple — and enjoying a relaxing summer swim in her condo's pool.

CSR's Patricia Straat Retires

By Don Luckett

Dr. Patricia Straat has retired from the Center for Scientific Review, where she was a special assistant in the Office of the Director. Many who know her from her 21 years at NIH may be surprised by her retirement, because she has never been the retiring type. Straat has rapidly advanced to successes in academic, industry and government careers.

Dr. Patricia Straat

Working under a PHS predoctoral fellowship, she earned a Ph.D. in biology and biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University in 1964. She spent the next 6 years at Hopkins, first as a PHS postdoctoral fellow and then as an assistant professor. Her fields of interest there were broad, spanning the areas of enzymology, nitrogen metabolism, electron transport systems, molecular biology and biophysics.

In 1970, Straat moved to Biospherics, Inc., where she was senior research biochemist and later director of research services. Her most memorable experiences were related to the 1976 Viking mission to Mars. She was coinvestigator of the labeled release (LR) life detection experiment and a member of the Viking biology flight team. Following the mission, she was principal investigator in a study to interpret the resulting data, which were consistent with a biological response. Since the recent report of possible liquid water on Mars, NASA has renewed its interest in the LR experimental results.

Straat joined NIH in 1980 as a grants associate and soon became head of planning and coordination for the National Toxicology Program at NIEHS. In her third year, she became the scientific review administrator of the molecular and cellular biophysics study section at the Division of Research Grants (now CSR). In 1986, she became chief of the referral section and deputy chief for referral in DRG's Referral and Review Branch; in 1996, she was named acting deputy chief for review. Straat moved to the CSR Office of the Director in 1997 as special assistant, developing policy statements, analyzing review data, developing the CSR Intranet and Internet web sites, producing Peer Review Notes, and coordinating other CSR and NIH projects.

Straat believes she had "an exciting, enjoyable career." But she will not be looking back. She is looking "forward to a new life in 2001 packed with activities." She plans to enjoy friends, finish writing two books (one on the LR experiment) and advance her interests in photography, horseback riding and riding to hounds ("fox chasing"). With a 10-acre farm, three horses, three dogs, a donkey and a cat, she is certain to have a retirement full of activity.

Zimmerman Retires from CSR

By Don Luckett

Dr. Eugene Zimmerman has retired from the Center for Scientific Review as scientific review administrator of the allergy and immunology study section of the immunological sciences integrated review group. He has 26 years of federal service, but his commitment and connections to NIH extend back 35 years.

Dr. Eugene Zimmerman

Before receiving his Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Maryland in 1968, Zimmerman spent a year as a technician in an NIH laboratory studying respiratory viruses. This experience sparked an interest in virology and conquering the common cold. He later worked for two NCI intramural research contractors — Microbiological Associates and Litton Bionetics — as assistant project director and senior scientist. During this 6-year period, he conducted early research on the relationship between retroviruses and cancer, the use of the simian model for studying leukemia, and the use of interferon as an immune system modulator.

Zimmerman eventually became interested in doing more to address the broad scientific challenges to preventing disease. In 1976, he jumped at an opportunity to join the NIH Grants Associate Program, which groomed promising scientists for careers in managing NIH research programs. He soon became assistant program director for carcinogenesis at NCI. In 1979, he began managing contract reviews as executive secretary for NCI's cause and prevention scientific review committee.

During the next 2 years, he also supported the review of large program-project grants and became fascinated with the review process. Because of the skills he developed, he was recruited to be executive secretary of the allergy and immunology study section at CSR's predecessor (the Division of Research Grants). The challenge of working in a new field was invigorating, and he greatly enjoyed recruiting and working with the best researchers in the field.

Eight years later, Zimmerman accepted new challenges at NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation. He served as special assistant to the DAIT director before becoming chief of the allergic mechanisms section.

Despite the rewards of managing an important research portfolio, Zimmerman was drawn back to the allergy and immunology study section in 1996. There was nothing stale about his old job. He was still excited to be working with a wonderful group of scientists to find the most promising research applications and nurture new researchers. CSR staff, his study section members and the extramural community shared the feeling.

Dr. Donald Schneider, director of the CSR Division of Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms, summed up their sentiments: Zimmerman has been "wonderfully helpful, scientifically knowledgeable and delightful to work with."

In assessing his 35-year career, Zimmerman notes that there still is no cure for the common cold. The great advances in technology have been no match for the multivariant viruses that cause colds. He is nonetheless hopeful. One of his former study section members has identified a key cell receptor that cold-causing rhinoviruses use to infect cells. One day a grant application could bear a plan for using such research to develop the elusive "magic bullet." In any case, Zimmerman is proud to have been part of a process that includes such possibilities.


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