I had my first glimpse of a scientist at work when I was very young. My mother, a public health nurse, would spend weekends in housing developments and community clinics, often helping those without health insurance. I saw how she would listen to her patients, apply rigorous logic to their problems, and help solve them—all with great compassion for the people she served.
Not much later in life, I learned the effects of a disease that hadn’t been solved.
I saw three friends suffer and die from sickle cell disease. I couldn’t do anything to help them. But I could learn to help others, and so I pursued a career in medicine, focusing on hematology. Along the way, so many people helped me out. At Brown University, Dr. Pierre Galletti and Dr. Herbert Lichtman let me work in their labs and learn from their expertise. Within NIDDK, Dr. Alan Schechter has been an invaluable mentor to me from the beginning. He offered advice as I wrote the fellowship grant that first enabled me to work at NIH and later helped me learn to do basic and translational science, while Dr. Arthur Nienhuis at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute helped me understand the process of clinical research.
At NIDDK, we strive to inspire and support the next generations of scientists as they blaze their own paths to discovery. NIH holds a Graduate Research Festival and grant-writing workshops. It funds fellows and offers a wealth of academic courses to help scientists of all ages advance their knowledge. Through NIDDK’s Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, we bring high school and college students from as far away as Guam and American Samoa for a taste of real research in a real lab. We also reach out to talk with young learners about the importance of science, as I did recently at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., and provide curricula for grades K-12.
This month our Institute completes its 60th anniversary. In September, we held a scientific symposium, an event where more than 200 people, from patients to researchers—including Dr. Jeffrey Friedman on the day his and Dr. Douglas Coleman’s Lasker Award was announced—came together to share and pool knowledge, and to think about where the next generation of knowledge will come from.
At the symposium, we heard from scientists whose industrious careers have enhanced worldwide understanding of diseases both within and outside of NIDDK’s mission. For many of them, NIDDK support has been integral to the continuance of their research.
And we saw researchers nearer to the beginning of their careers, when we presented NIDDK 60th Anniversary Early Career Investigator/Scholar Awards to 12 scientists from around the country, including five from right on the NIH campus. The awardees also presented their research in a poster session, where they spoke about their work with both senior scientists and peers.
For young researchers, that support—beyond financial—includes mentoring, review, collaboration and myriad helping hands. It’s crucial in helping that next generation to reach their potential – and in helping the millions of people affected by those scientists’ research to reach their own.
In good health,
Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Editor’s Note: For more on the anniversary symposium and gala, see the NIH Record article.