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[ CELIA HOOPER ](photo - Lorna Heartley)

Dear Just Ask:

How can one identify research groups within the NIH intramural program that are interested and/or working on a family of proteins termed serpins (serine protease inhibitors)? The molecular weight of a serpin protein is around 50,000 Da. Many serpins inhibit serine proteases, but some do not have demonstrable inhibitory activities (e.g., ovalbumin, angiotensinogen, pigment epithelium-derived factor [PEDF], and maspin). Thank you.

- Pat Becerra, NEI-LRCMB

Dear Pat:

Your question offers us the opportunity to outline the somewhat haphazard ways in which intramural scientists, in general, can identify potential collaborators on campus.

Our first step in an attempt to track down intramural serpin experts was to search the CRISP database. We usually do this via the Community of Science Web Page at this Uniform Resource Locator (URL): http://cos.gdb.org/. After selecting their "Federally Funded," then their "NIH" menu choices, we first restricted our search to "Maryland" and were able to find research in your lab and one other that you are already in touch with by searching under the name of specific serpins (rather than the generic term "serpin," which yielded nothing). The nationwide search for "serpin*" (using the asterisk as a wildcard that covers both "serpin" and "serpins") turned up everyone with grant proposals that included the word serpin or serpins, but none of these folks are here at NIH.

Our next move was to try the search engine on the NIH home page at this URL: http://search.info.nih.gov/. Searching under "serpin*" turned up some useless junk, but searching under the names of specific serpins yielded your 1995 Research Festival poster abstract and some lengthy reference documents - but no collaborators.

Unstymied, we forged ahead and contacted the heads of various relevant interinstitute interest groups on campus to see whether they could think of anyone. We followed up on several vague leads ("I think there's someone up at Frederick working on serpins. . ."), but none panned out. Finally we tried sending queries to the subscribers to the DDIR's Bulletin Board and to the Fellow-L list. (Since Yours Truly keeps the DDIR's Bulletin Board list, I just put on another hat and did this. Other folks who need help finding collaborators this way would send a message to hooper@box-h.nih.gov. To post a message on the fellows' list, send it via e-mail to felcom@helix.nih.gov, and the volunteers who keep that list will post it for you.) This had no immediate payoffs.

Things were looking grim until last year's Research Festival when, on your own, you found a fellow serpin researcher, J. H. Lee, who presented a poster in collaboration with Mark Brantly (NHLBI) entitled "A Conformational Change in the Reactive Site Loop of alpha-1-antitrypsin Associated with Rapid Intracellular Degradation."

A month and a half later, my various list queries paid off when Kee Lee, a new postdoc in the Lab of Cellular and Molecular Immunology, NIAID, contacted me. Lee did his doctoral dissertation on antitrypsin and has identified several temperature-stable antitrypsin mutants and characterized structural and functional aspects of these proteins. Lee is wondering about their in vivo functions. Happy collaborating!

- C.H.

NCI Launches Independent Intramural Review Office

NCI has established a new office with oversight responsibility for the scientific review of the research of intramural principal investigators and laboratory and branch leaders. The new Office of Advisory Activities (OAA) also coordinates the recruitment and orientation of the ad hoc site visit teams, the site-visits themselves, the compilation of the site-visit reports, and, as needed, the clarification of those reports at Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) meetings. The new office was created with an eye toward complying with the precepts put forth in 1995 by a blue ribbon panel (the Bishop-Calabresi committee), which called for a mechanism to ensure objectivity in the review of the NCI intramural program.

The OAA is located within the NCI Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) and will coordinate its intramural review with its external advisory functions, including facilitating operations of the extramural oversight Board of Scientific Advisors and numerous ad hoc working groups and staff task forces that review NCI operations. The OAA will also work with the presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board and with the DEA director to coordinate the activities of that board with all of the other NCI advisory bodies. It will also work directly with the Intramural Advisory Board (IAB), which represents NCI intramural scientists across a broad range of issues involving intramural operations and principles. One focus of the IAB is the intramural review process from the principal investigators' perspective, reviewing the review process and bringing forward recommendations for changes in the process. Very minor changes that are within the scope of the existing guidelines may be incorporated quickly by the OAA and without clearance from other advisory groups. However, substantive changes in the review process will not be made without consultation with all relevant advisory groups, including the NCI Executive Committee and the BSC.

The OAA is led by Robert Hammond, who headed the NIDDK Review Branch since 1989 and has served in senior review capacities at different institutes, including NCI, since his arrival at NIH in 1980. Before that, he held appointments at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, in Natick, Mass., Ripon (Wisc.) College, and George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., where his efforts focused on comparative physiology and endocrinology. He received his Ph.D. in biology from Tulane University, in New Orleans, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in animal physiology at Liverpool University in England.

Senior staff from across NIH have been recruited to the OAA, including Florence Farber, of the NCI Grants Review Branch, and Judy Mietz, formerly with the NHLBI Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, who will serve as executive secretaries for the intramural research review, and Susan Feldman, former NIH committee management officer, who will serve as resident expert on pertinent federal laws, regulations, and policies.

- Cynthia Morgan

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