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April 2010

By: Dave | April 29 2010 | Category: Scientists in the Community

NIH Director Francis Collins addresses studentsIn celebration of National Lab DayExternal Web Site Policy, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins visited McKinley Technology High SchoolExternal Web Site Policy in Washington, DC to talk about DNA, evolution, and life. Dr. Collins spent the morning of April 27th with 80 Biology I and AP Biology students. Not only did the students get to hear about the latest advances in medical research and preview new lessons on evolution and medicine, they had the opportunity to ask questions of one the leading experts on the human genome.

During the visit, Dr. Collins emphasized what makes science and discovery so cool. The students didn't just talk science. They did it by extracting the DNA from strawberries.

In a recent letter, Dr. Collins challenged NIH employees and grantees to become involved with K-12 education by participating in National Lab Day. The goal of National Lab Day is to link the needs of teachers with the skills of local scientists and engineers.

Despite the name, National Lab Day is an on-going project, and there's still time to get involvedExternal Web Site Policy.

Need ideas? The NIH Office of Science Education has developed a new resource for scientists volunteering for education.
By: Cindy, Gloria | April 22 2010 | Category: Science History

Another installment in our series honoring NIH-Supported Scientists on Their Birthdays

Rita Levi-MontalciniBorn on April 22, 1909, in Turin, Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini overcame all sorts of challenges on her way to winning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986. She’s the oldest living Nobel laureate and the only one to reach her 100th – and now her 101st! – birthday.

Rita’s first big hurdle was persuading her father to let her go to college. Mr. Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, believed that a career interferes with the duties of a wife and mother. Eventually, he came around, thank goodness. Rita enrolled in the local university, and she graduated from medical school in 1936 and went on to pursue basic research in neurology and psychiatry at the University of Turin.

Rita, whose family was Jewish, suffered under Benito Mussolini’s rule during World War II. In 1938, Mussolini issued the Manifesto of Race and laws barring Jewish citizens from academic and professional careers. Not to be thwarted, Rita set up lab equipment in her bedroom. Soon, heavy bombing in the city forced her to move her lab to her family’s country cottage. When the Germans invaded Italy in 1943, she moved again, this time to Florence, where she lived under ground – with another makeshift lab – until the end of the war.

After the war, she returned to the University of Turin Institute of Anatomy. Her work impressed Viktor Hamburger, head of the Zoology Department at Washington University in St. Louis. He invited her to collaborate with him as a research associate. Her plans to stay one semester in 1947 stretched into 30 years.

At Washington University, Rita worked with another faculty member, Stanley Cohen, on the growth of nerve fibers. Much of their work was funded by NIH. She and Cohen shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for isolating nerve growth factor (NGF)External Web Site Policy and epidermal growth factor (EGF)External Web Site Policy. Her many discoveries in neurology and psychiatry have furthered our understanding of such diverse diseases as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

In addition to the Nobel prize, Rita has received many honors and awards -- and she’s been serving in the Italian Senate as a Senator for Life since 2001! Her achievements -- against all odds -- are still making a difference in the world today.
She told a reporter last year from her office in Rome that the secret of her longevity is, basically, “no food, no husband, and no regrets.” She
  • gets up at 5 a.m.,
  • eats one meal a day (lunch),
  • keeps her brain active by working in her lab in the morning and her foundation, which supports education for women in Africa, in the afternoon, and
  • goes to bed at 11 p.m.

She’s also been a mentor her whole life and says she “encourages the young to have faith in themselves, and in the future.” She hopes she conveys to everyone the message that “ the important thing is to have lived with serenity using the rational left-hand side of one’s brain, and not the right side, the instinctive side, which leads to misery and tragedy.”

For further reading

Levi-Montalcini, Rita, and Pietro Calissano. 1979. The Nerve-Growth Factor. Scientific American 240:44–3.
Article about Rita Levi-Montalcini on her 100th birthdayExternal Web Site Policy
Nerve growth factor signaling, neuroprotection, and neural repair
Nerve Growth Factor Gene Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease - Clinical Trial UpdateExternal Web Site Policy
Nerve growth factor levels in Parkinson disease and experimental parkinsonian rats
Nobel laureates funded by the NIH
Press relase for the 1986 Nobel prizeExternal Web Site Policy
By: Cindy | April 20 2010 | Category: NIH Resources, Tidbits for Teachers

Alcohol Awareness Month imageIt’s also National Arab American Heritage, Autism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Manatee, Marching Band, Occupational Therapy, Parkinson’s Disease, Pet First Aid, Poetry, Stress, and Workplace Conflict Awareness Month, not to mention National Anxiety, Child Abuse Prevention, Humor, and Welding Month.

But let’s get back to alcohol. Singling out a month for alcohol awareness began in 1987. It would be a way to encourage communities to focus on alcohol-related problems, according to the founding organization, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)External Web Site Policy. Many people are affected by alcoholism besides the alcoholic, and raising awareness about that helps support the alcoholic’s loved ones. Alcohol plays a leading role in our most difficult social problems, including crime, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and domestic violence.

NCADD was founded in 1944 by the first female member of Alcoholics AnonymousExternal Web Site Policy. The organization is dedicated to lowering the stigma surrounding substance abuse. April’s awareness theme this year is “When Love Is Not Enough: Helping Families Coping with Alcoholism.”

April 8 was National Alcohol Screening Day. At sites across the country, people were offered information, screening questionnaires, and a chance to talk with substance abuse and treatment professionals. If you missed it, check for the date early next year.

Our office develops curricula about science that draw on the research being done by NIH investigators, and the one called Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior is one of my favorites. It’s a collection of six lessons for middle school science classes that take about seven class periods to complete. The background materials for teachers, handouts for students, and a Web site with interactive activities were developed and nationally field-tested, along with the lessons, over the course of two years.

The tone of our curricula is objective, not proscriptive, and they’ve all been aligned with state and national science standards. Students learn not only about the biology of alcohol in the human body and it social consequences in this module. They also get to work in groups, develop reasoning skills, summarize their findings, and problem solve – all essential skills nowadays.

If you use our curricula, we would love to get your feedback!

NCADD Web Site Policy

About Alcohol Awareness Month
Frequently Asked Questions about Alcohol and Health nglish/
By: Paul | April 14 2010 | Category: Issues in Education, Science News

The National Governors’ AssociationExternal Web Site Policy (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School OfficersExternal Web Site Policy (CCSSO) lead the Common Core Standards InitiativeExternal Web Site Policy. Its mission is to develop clear, rigorous standards for what students should learn in English language arts and math in every public school in every state in the country. Over the past few months, educators and states worked together to craft clearer and higher standards and drafted them into a coherent document. That collection of standards will become a gauge of the success in educating students and a guarantee that students who graduate are job and college ready.

The public comment period for the Common Core Standards ended April 2, 2010. The NGA and the CCSSO are making final adjustments to the document now, and they’ll release the final product to the states soon. Each state will set its own timetable for review and an adoption decision. Several states have already indicated an interest in moving ahead quickly and will begin the review process this spring, shortly after they receive the final document.

Although governors, state boards of education, and state legislatures rightfully will have the final say on the adoption of the Common Core Standards, many educators, business executives, and parents who are aware of the critical state of American education have been weighing in on the pro-adoption side. For example, Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal (April 6, 2010), stated, “I know that common education standards are essential for producing the educated work force America needs to remain globally competitive.” And Brian K. Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the Business Higher Education ForumExternal Web Site Policy (BHEF), said on April 7, 2010, “BHEF has endorsed the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and language arts, the adoption of which represents one of its top [preschool through high school] education priorities. In addition, BHEF has called for the adoption of science standards.”

The state-by-state decision process will evolve in the months ahead. Meanwhile, the fact remains that  American students need to improve their academic skills relative to their international peers if we as a country are to continue to successfully compete in the world economy. The Common Core State Standards offer a way to develop the skills of all of our students while preparing them for college or a career.


Business Hig her Education Forum endorsement statement
External Web Site Policy

By: Gloria | April 9 2010 | Category: NIH Resources, Science News, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

DNA Day LogoHave you ever wanted to talk directly to the top minds in the field of genomics research? Well, get your thoughts in order and get those questions lined up because you will have the chance to chat one-on-one with experts in celebration of National DNA Day.

According to Carla Easter, Ph.D., science education specialist at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), genomics and genetics experts will be available at the DNA Day Chatroom on Friday, April 23, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT to answer questions from students, teachers, and the general public on topics such as basic genetics research, the genetic basis of disease, and ethical questions about genetic privacy. Transcripts from previous DNA Day chatrooms are also available on the NHGRI Web site.

One of my favorite exchanges from last year was, “What would someone do after getting their undergraduate degree if they were inclined to study DNA or genetics?” Current NHGRI director, Eric Green, offered up a list of options:

  • Get a job working in a genetics laboratory.
  • Become a genetics counselor.
  • Get a Ph.D. and become a genetics researcher.
  • Get an M.D. and become a medical geneticist.
  • Become a computer scientist and help us interpret information about our genomes.

In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, 35 NHGRI scientist ambassadors will be visiting schools through May to talk about job opportunities in genomic research. They will also help students plan their professional careers in genetics and genomics. For more information on potential careers in genomic sciences visit NHGRI's Genomic Careers Web Site.

The American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG) is sponsoring a variety of events that help K-12 students, teachers, and the public learn more about how genetics and genomics affect their lives. You can visit the ASHG DNA Day pageExternal Web Site Policy for more information about ASHG-sponsored activities.

What are you doing for DNA Day this year?
By: Margaret | April 7 2010 | Category: Science Lite, Scientists in the Community, Tidbits for Teachers

Women Are Scientists Poster CompositeI’ve been interested in the underrepresentation of women in certain careers since college, when I minored in women’s studies. As a working mom, I’m also interested in how women balance career and family life. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the NIH Women Are Scientists video series so much. It highlights successful women scientists and doctors who have overcome obstacles—including physical disabilities—and achieved a rewarding career and a healthy work-life balance.

This award-winning series—which is FREE and can be downloaded or viewed online or on DVD—was developed by a colleague here in the office and former high school science teacher. The videos—geared toward middle school students—are fast-moving, showing the rapid pace of an emergency room or genetics lab, the  intricacies of surgery, the calm intensity of a psychotherapy session, and more. Anyone can use them—teachers, guidance counselors, students, physicians—at career days, science clubs, etc. This series is a partnership between the Office of Science Education and the Office of Research on Women's Health.

One of my favorites is the Women Scientists with Disabilities video. I loved learning about women like Bertha Melgoza, who lost her sight from a childhood illness and faced a tough future in Mexico. Over the course of nine years of weekly transfusions, Melgoza’s doctor spurred her interest in sociology and encouraged her to attend his lectures. With this foundation, Melgoza asked herself: “What do people do to turn this pain into strength?” Now she is a successful clinical psychologist in the U.S. with a husband, a son and a full spiritual life.

Always a fan of Star Trek, I enjoyed the introduction to the Women Are Researchers video, narrated by Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher in the TV series. McFadden introduces three real-life extraordinary women researchers who have overcome gender, ethnic, and physical barriers to become successful biomedical researchers. One of those researchers, Judith Pachciarz, was initially denied the right to attend college decades ago due to her hearing impairment. But that didn’t stop her. She went to court to gain admission and went on to earn an M.D. and a Ph.D. Her advice to young girls: “Look at every obstacle as something to be overcome to develop your character.”

Even my daughter, who’s only 10, was captivated by the fictional detective story of a teenage girl in the Women Are Pathologists video. The girl learns about the field of pathology as she discovers that her sister has cervical cancer and is keeping it a secret. We see pathologists working in the subspecialties of forensic, surgical, and academic pathology.

Each of the other two videos—Women in Dental Research and Woman are Surgeons—also shows three amazing women performing life-saving surgery, fighting AIDS, conducting research, teaching new physicians, and giving children free dental care and offers glimpses into their private lives.

I think young women seeking role models for success in medical science would be really inspi red by t his series. I’m eager to hear what you think of the videos and how you use them.
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