It was a pleasure for me last night to attend the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, also known as “the Sammies.” This Washington, D.C. event, now in its 12th year as the “Oscars of American government service,” was a big night for NIH. Steven Rosenberg, a highly regarded physician-scientist at NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), took home the evening’s highest honor as the 2015 Federal Employee of the Year.
Also hearing their names called were NCI’s Jean Claude Zenklusen and Carolyn Hutter of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). They received the inaugural People’s Choice Award. It marks the highest vote-getter from the general public, which was invited to choose from among this year’s 30 finalists in eight award categories.
Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, also was among the finalists last night in the Science and Environment category. “Griff” was nominated for his outstanding work on sickle cell disease, developing the first effective drug for the condition and overseeing a clinical trial using stem cell transplants that reversed the disease in adults.
The Sammies are the inspiration of the non-profit Partnership for Public Service. The Partnership teams with federal agencies and other stakeholders to inspire a new generation of civil servants and transform government, in part, through efficient management and high quality leadership. It’s in this spirit that the Partnership initiated the Sammies in 2002 to highlight the work of “feds” who make significant contributions to the health and well-being of Americans.
Prior to last night, the significant contributions of NIH staff already had produced Federal Employee of the Year honors an impressive three times in twelve years. In 2007, NCI scientists John Schiller and Doug Lowy—the latter now the acting institute director—shared the honor. In 2012, Lynne Mofenson of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development claimed the top prize, followed a year later by Julie Segre of NHGRI and Tara Palmore of the NIH Clinical Center.
So, it was a thrill to hear Steve Rosenberg’s name called last night for inclusion in this honor roll of outstanding public service. Steve has spent four decades at NCI, developing life-saving treatments for cancer patients. Steve is best known for his pioneering research in cancer immunotherapy, an approach that trains a cancer patient’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. For many years, other cancer researchers considered this approach to be a long shot that might never pan out. But Steve persisted. Now it’s considered one of the most significant breakthroughs ever.
It also was my pleasure last night to be asked to step to the podium and present the People’s Choice Award to Jean Claude and Carolyn. They lead The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a nine-year project that is creating the first detailed catalogue of the genomic changes associated with 33 types of tumors. TGCA has been highlighted several times in this blog, and its groundbreaking efforts already have delivered greater precision in classifying and treating many cancers. What has also set Jean Claude and Carolyn apart is their deft handling of an extraordinarily complex project that involves, in addition to their own team at NIH, more than 150 researchers at dozens of institutions in the United States and around the world.
Samuel Heyman, the late founder of the Partnership for Public Service, once wrote: “The future of our nation quite simply depends on the quality of our government.” As the work of Steve, Jean Claude, Carolyn, and all of our hardworking NIH family shows each day, that challenge is being met.
Steven Rosenberg (National Cancer Institute/NIH)
Carolyn Hutter (National Genome Research Institute/NIH)
Interview with Jean C. Zenklusen on The Cancer Genome Atlas (Federal News Radio, May 15, 2015)
Partnership for Public Service (Washington, D.C.)