A Look Back at the IRP’s History-Making Women

5 days 17 hours ago
NIH Archives Document the Tremendous Importance of Female Scientists

Women’s History Month is celebrated every March, and women scientists have undoubtedly made invaluable contributions to IRP research over the course of NIH’s history. Despite this, women still remain under-represented in biomedical science at NIH and elsewhere today, prompting the IRP to make supporting the careers of female researchers an important priority. While NIH works to rectify the gender imbalance in scientific research, it’s important to take time to celebrate the many women who, even when confronted with significant historical obstacles, have made a name for themselves in the lab and on the pages of scientific journals. Join me in taking a look through the archives of the Office of NIH History & Stetten Museum to learn about some of the many women scientists who have been at the forefront of science and administration at NIH.

Devon Valera

Preventing Cellular Rust Hinders Tuberculosis

1 week 4 days ago
Study Suggests New Treatment Approach for Deadly Lung Infection

Oxygen is, quite literally, the air we breathe (or, more accurately, 21 percent of it). However, just as oxygen in the air can turn a handy garden tool into a useless hunk of rust, certain unstable, oxygen-containing molecules in our bodies can wreak havoc on our cells. According to new IRP research, revving up cellular systems that prevent this kind of damage could significantly improve outcomes for people with tuberculosis.

Brandon Levy

Examining the Roots of Opioid Use Disorder

2 weeks 5 days ago
IRP Researchers Are Peering Into the Brain to Learn Why Opioid Drugs Are So Hard to Quit

The ancient Egyptians, despite their significant anatomical knowledge, thought the heart was the seat of intelligence. Over the millennia, that view changed as philosophers and scientists alike came to appreciate the extraordinary role of the brain. It is partly thanks to them that we celebrate Brain Awareness Week every March. In honor of this observance, we took the opportunity to talk with IRP senior investigator Yihong Yang, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellow Ida Fredriksson, Ph.D., Pharm.D., about their investigation into how cravings for opioids build during a period of prolonged abstinence, often leading to relapse.

Melissa Glim

Poster Session Showcases IRP Graduate Students

3 weeks 3 days ago
Event Includes In-Person Presentations for First Time Since 2020

Three years after COVID-19 dramatically changed the way scientists and many others work, much of life in the NIH IRP has begun to resemble the way things were in February of 2020. This includes the return of in-person scientific poster sessions like the one that took place on February 16 as part of the 19th annual NIH Graduate Student Research Symposium. Nearly 130 graduate students conducting their Ph.D. research in IRP labs as part of NIH’s Graduate Partnership Program presented their progress at that poster session and its virtual counterpart held February 15.

The two poster sessions made it clear that IRP graduate students are essential contributors to the life-changing discoveries made at NIH, from using geckos to learn about human eye diseases to investigating how the immune system combats infectious invaders to exploring ways to improve cancer treatment. Keep reading to learn about some of the bright scientists-in-training who showed off their work during the two-day event.

Brandon Levy

Sugar Molecule Could Resolve Rare Diseases

1 month ago
IRP Research Hastens Development of First Treatment for Genetic Muscle Condition

An old medical adage warns doctors that when they hear hoofbeats, they should first think of horses, not zebras. After all, when someone comes into the hospital with a cough, the most likely explanation is something mundane like the flu. However, some patients truly are medical zebras, affected by a disease that afflicts very few others.

IRP senior investigator Marjan Huizing, Ph.D., has learned quite a bit about those zebras since arriving at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as a postdoctoral fellow in 1998. To help commemorate Rare Disease Day today, Dr. Huizing spoke with the “I Am Intramural” blog about her research on an array of ailments linked to a small sugar molecule called sialic acid, some of which are extremely rare.

Melissa Glim

Moms’ Caffeine Consumption May Affect Babies’ Brains

1 month 1 week ago
Findings Could Explain Why Caffeine Exposure In-Utero Increases Kids’ Risk for Obesity

Between books, the media, and well-meaning friends and relatives, new parents are inundated with advice about how to set their kids up for a happy and healthy future. However, what parents do before their children are even born can also have a huge impact on how they turn out. For instance, new IRP research suggests that a pregnant woman’s caffeine consumption can rewire her baby’s brain in ways that put the child at increased risk for obesity later in life.

Brandon Levy

Helping Aging Hearts Get Their Groove Back

1 month 2 weeks ago
IRP Researchers Discover ‘Coupled-Clock’ That Controls Heart Rhythms

Like so much about our lives, our hearts slow down as we age. While this slowing is natural, a heartbeat that is too sluggish can lead to heart failure, irregular heartbeats known as arrhythmias, and other problems. IRP senior investigator Edward G. Lakatta, M.D., has changed the paradigm in our understanding of how our hearts keep the beat across our life spans — and what happens when they don’t.

Melissa Glim

Celebrating Black Scientists’ Contributions to IRP Research

1 month 2 weeks ago
NIH’s Historical Archives Highlight Numerous Prominent Scientists

Diversity is a cornerstone of innovation and scientific discovery. Through initiatives like its Distinguished Scholars Program and the Independent Research Scholars Program, the IRP hopes to recruit more scientists from groups historically under-represented in biomedical research, including African American and other Black researchers. As the IRP works towards a more diverse future, let’s celebrate Black History Month by delving into the archives of the Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum to learn about some of the Black scientists who have made important contributions to an array of IRP discoveries.

Devon Valera

NIH Mourns Two Accomplished Cancer Researchers

1 month 2 weeks ago
A Tribute to Drs. James M. Phang and John J. DiGiovanna

The IRP is deeply saddened by the recent passing of two members of its community, James "Jim" M. Phang, M.D., and John J. DiGiovanna, M.D. Dr. Phang passed away on January 29 after a months-long struggle with esophageal cancer. Dr. DiGiovanna died on February 6, more than two years after his diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

IRP Staff Blogger

Exercise Energizes Patients With Autoimmune Disease

1 month 3 weeks ago
IRP Study Points to the Biological Roots of Physical Activity’s Benefits

British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” While not exactly a “technology,” exercise has such wide-ranging health benefits that it could understandably be mistaken for magic. Still, scientists persist in investigating precisely why physical activity is so good for us. Recently, a small IRP study showed that exercise training can help reduce the debilitating fatigue that often accompanies the autoimmune disease known as lupus, and also illuminated some of the underlying mechanisms that may lead to those benefits.

Brandon Levy

Creating Cutting-Edge Cancer Vaccines

2 months ago
IRP Research Identifies a Tantalizing Target for Cancer Immunotherapy

February 4 is World Cancer Day, a time to mark international efforts to prevent, detect, and treat cancer. Immunotherapy, one of the most significant advances in treating cancer, was pioneered here at NIH more than 30 years ago. Today, IRP senior investigator Claudia M. Palena, Ph.D., is pushing cancer immunotherapy forward with the discovery of a novel target for cancer vaccines.

Melissa Glim

IRP Scientist Shares Path From Stuttering to Science

2 months ago
Diversity-Focused NIH Program Helps Dr. Shahriar SheikhBahaei Investigate the Neuroscience of Voluntary Movement

IRP neuroscientist Shahriar SheikhBahaei, Ph.D., first became aware of his stutter when he was 5 years old. Years later, his career would revolve around studying the biological roots of his speech impediment. But before he could start his own lab focused on how the brain controls voluntary movement, he needed a leg up from NIH’s Independent Research Scholars (IRS) program.

Dianne Lee

Postdoc Profile: Going the Extra Mile

2 months 1 week ago
Dr. Ayland Letsinger examines the effects of exercise on the brain

Every January, gyms are flooded with new members using the beginning of a new year as a burst of motivation to get fit. When many of these new exercise enthusiasts abandon their new healthy habit within a couple months, they shouldn’t feel guilty, according to IRP postdoctoral fellow Ayland Letsinger, Ph.D. He believes there’s a genetic component behind our fluctuating interest in exercise, and he spends his days in his IRP lab investigating such biological factors behind the motivation to move.

“More people would rather binge-watch 'Stranger Things’ for three hours than do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, and there may be a biological basis behind it,” he explains.

Anindita Ray

IRP’s Bruce Tromberg Elected to National Academy of Medicine

2 months 2 weeks ago
Advances in Bioengineering Drive Life-Saving Medicine

“To discover new things, you need new ways to see them,” says Bruce J. Tromberg, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). That’s why he has spent the past 30 years of his career improving and inventing tools to help doctors and scientists conduct cutting-edge biomedical research and apply their findings to the task of saving lives. This past October, Dr. Tromberg was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) for his contributions to the fields of biophotonics and biomedical optics, as well as his leadership in the biomedical engineering and imaging community.

Melissa Glim

Combination Therapy Shows Increased Effectiveness Against Brain Cancer

2 months 3 weeks ago
Additional Treatment Cuts off Tumor Cells’ Escape Route From Anti-Cancer Drug

Despite the many therapies that scientists have created to fight cancer, treating the disease is often still a frustrating game of cat and mouse. Just when doctors think they have managed to defeat their wily opponent, it comes roaring back as strong as ever. A new IRP study suggests a two-pronged approach that relies in part on an existing anti-cancer drug could more effectively thwart a particularly deadly form of brain cancer.

Brandon Levy

NIH Mourns the Passing of Ji Ming Wang

2 months 3 weeks ago

The IRP community is profoundly saddened by the recent passing of Ji Ming Wang, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Investigator and Head of the Chemoattractant Receptor and Signal Section in the Cancer Innovation Laboratory at NIH's National Cancer Institute (NCI). He died unexpectedly on December 24, 2022.

Dr. Wang studied the role of chemoattractant receptors in infection, inflammation, immune responses and cancer progression for over 30 years. In 1998, Ji Ming was the first to identify a critical role for the receptors in mediating cancer cell metastasis to distant organs. His later work focused on leukocyte infiltration, a hallmark of inflammation and cancer progression.

IRP Staff Blogger

Toxic Protein and Aging Combine Forces to Drive Brain Disease

3 months 1 week ago
IRP Study Suggests New Therapeutic Targets for Pair of Age-Related Illnesses

Aging wears down all parts of our bodies, from our bones to our brains. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the main risk factor for neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and dementia. However, the precise reason why has long remained a mystery. New IRP research suggests that the aged brain is a fertile ground for the spread of a harmful protein associated with several neurological diseases, and that the toxic protein itself ages immune cells in the brain.

Brandon Levy

IRP’s Eugene Koonin Elected to National Academy of Medicine

3 months 2 weeks ago
Scientist Decoded DNA to Build a Genomic Tree of Life

In 1973, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote a now-famous essay that declared, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” That sentiment has served as the guiding principle for the career of IRP senior investigator Eugene V. Koonin, Ph.D., who was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in October 2022 for his contributions to the field of evolutionary biology.

Dr. Koonin’s pioneering efforts to identify clusters of similar genes found in different organisms passed down by a common ancestor — known as ‘homologous’ genes — has helped to unlock the secrets encoded in DNA and create a foundation for the systematic study of how genes evolve and function. His lab at the National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) uses a combination of genomic sequencing and mathematical modeling to compare genes across species and determine how they work and where they came from. From this information, his team can develop a systematic framework to show the relationship between genes as they evolved. It’s like drawing the tree of life, but on a genomic scale.

Melissa Glim