NIDDK Director's Update Summer 2013

News Around NIDDK

NIDDK-supported projects win HHS innovates awards

The Weight of the Nation

Two projects with NIDDK contributions a national obesity campaign that teamed public and private organizations and a body weight simulator using the latest scientific advances were among the six groundbreaking projects selected on March 19 as winners in the HHS innovates awards. The projects were chosen from among 36 finalists and three NIH winners. The third NIH winner is a project linking Alzheimer's research volunteers to support services.

"I am delighted to see our employees' hard work, dedication, and creativity recognized by these prestigious awards," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins in a March 20 email to NIH staff.

The Weight of the Nation Campaign was one of three "Secretary's Pick" winners, chosen by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. A collaboration among HBO, NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Institute of Medicine, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente, this multimedia project illustrates how federal agencies can work together and with private organizations on innovative approaches to address obesity in the United States.

The four-part HBO documentary series highlighted several NIH research advances and addressed factors contributing to the country's obesity problem. The films are the centerpiece to a public awareness campaign, which also includes a nationwide community-based outreach effort.

Body Weight Simulator

People from across NIDDK took part in this process, from vetting scientific information to discussing NIH research on camera to publicizing NIH's role in the series. In addition, staff from several other ICs assisted in this project and 25 NIH grantees appeared in the films. NIDDK participants came from the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolic Diseases; Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition; Division of Intramural Research; Office of Communications and Public Liaison; and Office of Scientific Program and Policy Analysis.

The Body Weight Simulator earned an honorable mention in the awards. To advance the science of weight loss prediction and provide more accurate, personalized weight management programs, investigators from the intramural Laboratory of Biological Modeling developed the Body Weight Simulator.

This innovative online tool, which has been scientifically vetted and is being tested to determine practical utility, accurately models changes in body fat and metabolism in response to diet or exercise. Since its launch in 2011, the Body Weight Simulator has been accessed online by over 750,000 visitors.

"These two winning projects could not have happened without NIDDK staff," said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. "The ingenuity displayed in these projects helps us achieve the NIDDK mission to improve people's health and quality of life."

Read more about HHS innovates and this year's winners.

Collaboration leads to better imaging, better research and diagnosis

By Krysten Carrera

Image of a heart
Photo credit: Courtesy of the NIDDK Biomedical and Metabolic Imaging Branch.
A multidetector computerized tomography 3D recontructed image shows a whole heart (center) from a person with Cushing's syndrome.

In 2011, NIDDK and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) joined forces to share their expertise and sophisticated imaging tools to advance research on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other challenging health conditions. This joint operation, in the heart of the NIH Clinical Center, is called the Biomedical and Metabolic Imaging Branch (BMIB).

"Our multidisciplinary team includes imaging physicists, spectroscopists, and clinicians," said NIDDK senior radiologist Dr. Ahmed Gharib, who manages the branch. BMIB staff use state-of-the-art imaging equipment and have developed new techniques to benefit a variety of patients and support an expansive range of research across NIH. Using high-quality imaging gives researchers and clinicians a more accurate "and sometimes earlier "depiction of a developing disease, while low-quality images increase the likelihood of misdiagnosis. For example, a low-resolution liver scan may blur important details, such as tiny tumors.

"Advances in imaging allow us to view parts of the body at a level of anatomic and functional detail and speed that had not been possible in the past," said Gharib. "This has made a big impact in translational biomedical research."

The BMIB grew out of NIDDK's Integrated Cardiovascular Imaging Lab, which focused on demonstrating the link between metabolic syndrome (a combination of factors that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes) and atherogenesis (the formation of lesions in arterial walls). Today BMIB researchers work with the NIDDK-led Metabolic Clinical Research Unit (MCRU) to investigate the interrelationship between obesity, coronary heart disease, and other conditions. MCRU patients often go to the BMIB to be scanned in its 3-tesla MRI machine, which can accommodate people who weigh up to 500 pounds.

The work done at BMIB encompasses a broad array of research. In keeping with NIH's focus on collaboration, BMIB staff scientists work closely with other institutes--such as NICHD, NIAID, and NHLBI--that also depend on advanced imaging. For example, improvements in temporal resolution allow researchers to view and quantify the thickening of the coronary artery wall, the earliest stage of coronary artery disease. In the future, these new techniques may be used to monitor the effects of therapies and screen people at risk for coronary artery disease and other conditions.

"The collaborative infrastructure at NIH has enabled all of us to work together more efficiently," said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers. "The Biomedical and Metabolic Imaging Branch is an excellent example of what can be accomplished through ongoing partnerships within NIH."

STEP-UP opens lab in Federated States of Micronesia

By Krysten Carrera

STEP-UP Program Micronesia students
Photo credit: Danielle Clements, Pacific STEP-UP Program Assistant
To celebrate the opening of a new NIDDK laboratory in the Federated States of Micronesia, eight Micronesian students participating in NIDDK's Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons stand with community leaders, including U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Michael A. Miguel Ordoez (third from left, back row), as well as Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, Director of NIDDK's Office of Minority Health Research Coordination (third from right, back row).

NIDDK's Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) celebrated the opening of its Molecular Biology Lab in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), in a ceremony on April 30. The audience included the eight Micronesian students accepted to this summer's STEP-UP training, their friends and relatives, and staff from the Pohnpei Board of Education.

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Michael A. Miguel Ordoez also attended the event on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in FSM. He spoke briefly about the importance of scientific education and training, calling the STEP-UP program a --great opportunity to conduct research to impact people's lives--and improve health outcomes for people in FSM."

STEP-UP provides research opportunities for students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research, including students with disabilities, those from a disadvantaged background, and certain racial and ethnic minorities such as Pacific Islanders. The facility is the fourth STEP-UP lab to be built in a U.S.-administered or affiliated territory of the Pacific region. The other labs are in American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Republic of the Marshall Islands. The program will establish its fifth and last planned lab in Republic of Palau.

"Students in the Pacific region often live thousands of miles away from facilities that can support cutting-edge research," said Dr. Lawrence Agodoa, Director of NIDDK's Office of Minority Health Research Coordination, which manages the STEP-UP program. "By providing laboratories and training local science teachers as mentors, we expose students to the newest biomedical research techniques without them needing to travel far from home."

As part of STEP-UP training, students work over the summer at one of several NIDDK-funded labs, including the new lab in Pohnpei. Most of the students participating in the NIDDK STEP-UP program present their research at the NIH in Bethesda at the conclusion of the summer program.

"We are excited to welcome students in Pohnpei and in all our labs this summer," said Agodoa. "Our hope is that the experience will encourage many to pursue biomedical research as a career."

NIDDK employees donate blood during inaugural drive

By Krysten Carrera

NIH Blood Bank

On behalf of the NIH Blood Bank and in honor of World Kidney Day on March 14, NIDDK sponsored its Inaugural Blood Drive from March 11 to March 15. All NIDDK staff and their families were invited to participate. Throughout the week, 14 employees from NIDDK donated blood, including six new donors.

"The Blood Bank sincerely appreciates NIDDK's contribution on behalf of our patients," said Alan Decot, NIH Blood Bank donor recruitment coordinator. "Because blood components from just one donor can help up to three people, NIDDK's donations have the potential to make a difference in up to 42 patients' lives."

The availability of a safe blood supply is one of the most important aspects of the health care system, and the Blood Bank relies on the generosity of the NIH community to fulfill the need for approximately 600 pints of blood each month. However, donors need not work at NIH to give—anyone can help. Each day, patients in the Clinical Center are treated with donated blood. Blood donations are critical for the care not only of kidney patients but also for other patients with diseases in NIDDK's research mission, such as those with liver and blood diseases.

"Our employees have provided a critical service to those who are in need," said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. "I am hopeful that we can make the success of this year's blood drive an annual event."

To learn more about blood donation or schedule an appointment to donate, call (301) 496-1048 or go to the NIH Clinical Center website.

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