2006 Derek Dunn Memorial Senior Scientist Officer of the Year
(Two winners this year!)
Recipient 1: CAPT Pamela Ching
For her work as an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CAPT Pamela Ching has received 30 USPHS awards, and sharing two CDC/ATSDR Group Honor Awards for research and international health, and two DHHS Secretary’s Awards for Distinguished Service in outbreak investigation and vaccination efforts.
CAPT Ching’s professional achievements include research and expertise in multiple areas of public health. As an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) Officer in the Division of Nutrition, CAPT Ching examined associations between health behaviors and risks for chronic diseases using nationally representative data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Complex statistical analyses were conducted using SAS and SUDAAN software to account for the multi-stage sampling design of the System. As a Staff Research Epidemiologist in the Data Management Division of the National Immunization Program between 1994 and 1996, CAPT Ching assisted in the design and analysis of data for the National Immunization Survey, the largest telephone-based, multi-stage epidemiologic study of vaccination coverage among pre-school children in the United States, with an annual sample size exceeding 32,000. This study is the only one in which vaccination coverage information is issued in as little as six months to provide timely reflections of the immunization status of the US pre-school population. As the Surveillance Coordinator in the Epidemiology and Surveillance Division of NIP between 1996 and 2001, CAPT Ching conducted research focused on improving surveillance of vaccination coverage and case reporting of diseases on the US Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule, and instructed state-based immunization program personnel on the analysis, reporting, and feedback of surveillance data.
Since February 2002, CAPT Ching has served as a Senior Research Epidemiologist in the Immunization Services Division in NIP. Her initial research involved collaboration with researchers at the University of Michigan to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and intended behaviors of health department and hospital staff and community-based private physicians concerning their decision whether or not to participate in the national Smallpox Pre-Event Vaccination Program. At present, CAPT Ching develops, administers, and collects data from web-based interactive questionnaires to evaluate how federally-funded vaccine supply programs and outreach technical assistance influences vaccination coverage in children and adults. These efforts include analyses to evaluate the accountability of states in administering the Vaccines for Children Program, CDC`s largest public/private partnership reaching ~ 1/3 of all U.S. children through 33,000 private practice sites and 10,000 public clinics managed through 61 state grantees, and examining changes in rates of perinatal and infant hepatitis B infection associated with the 13-year US Perinatal Hepatitis B Prevention Program administered through 54 states and large cities. During July 2005, CAPT Ching was asked to apply her study design skills in a short-term assignment as the Study Execution Team Leader for Project MedKit in the CDC Director’s Emergency Operations Center. This assignment involved leading a five-member team tasked with designing the logistical aspects of a 12-month quantitative and qualitative study to evaluate the use of pharmaceutical kits distributed to select US households in preparation for a bioterrorism event. This project was considered of high priority to and favorably received by the Director of the CDC, the Secretary of DHHS, and the White House.
CAPT Ching has also served as a technical advisor in 16 consultancies in 18 countries in Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. As a part of these consultancies, CAPT Ching has designed and evaluated public health intervention and training programs, and surveillance systems. During a temporary duty assignment to the Republic of Armenia as an EIS Officer in the Division of Nutrition, CAPT Ching advised scientists of the Armenian National Institute of Health on the assessment of risk for famine in refugee populations. As one of two project directors, CAPT Ching hired, trained, and supervised staff responsible for collecting nutrition and communicable disease survey and surveillance data. As a Research Epidemiologist in the NIP, CAPT Ching has provided technical assistance on issues related to training for and surveillance of vaccine-preventable disease case reporting and vaccination coverage, conducted program assessments and reviews, and designed 5-year immunization plans relevant to pediatric and adult populations. These consultancies have included: 1) participation in a three-month CDC-supported Stop Transmission of Polio (STOP) assignment to identify cases of polio, neonatal tetanus, and measles in Bangladesh; 2) monitoring and assessing delivery of oral polio vaccine and vitamin A supplements to pre-school children during National Immunization Days in Sierra Leone; 3) development of training materials focused upon surveillance of vaccine–preventable diseases, and assessing the effect of vitamin A supplementation on pre-school child mortality for the Expanded Programme on Immunizations (EPI) at the WHO headquarters in Switzerland; 4) providing training in disease and risk factor surveillance for the control, elimination, and eradication of diphtheria, measles, neonatal tetanus, and polio for Ministries of Health in five Former Soviet Republics; and 5) development of immunization program infrastructure and policy guidelines for existing and new vaccines in support of submission of funding applications to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) Initiative in three Former Soviet Republics. As a consultant for the International Emergency and Refugee Health Branch in the Division of Emergency and Environmental Health Services of the National Center for Environmental Health at the CDC, CAPT Ching has assessed risk factors for and the prevalence of malnutrition and food insecurity, evaluated supplemental feeding program efforts, and guided development of nutritional surveillance systems for eight famine-affected African countries. Finally, CAPT Ching has provided technical assistance in the design of Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systems to track at-risk health behaviors for obesity and other chronic diseases in adolescents and adults for the Directorates of Primary Health Care and of Health Centers in the Ministry of Health of the State of Bahrain. In these capacities, CAPT Ching has worked with research scientists and epidemiologists associated with the WHO, UNICEF, USAID, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the National Red Cross Societies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), the World Food Programme, and the Ministries of Health in twelve republics within the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union, nine African countries, Bangladesh, and Bahrain.
CAPT Ching is recognized as an expert in multiple areas of public health by national and international organizations. CAPT Ching has balanced her research efforts with volunteer commitments to her community and to the USPHS Commissioned Corps. As a Registered and Licensed dietitian, CAPT Ching serves as a volunteer nutrition consultant to three community organizations in Georgia and Alabama focused on preventing pediatric obesity through physical activity and nutrition intervention programs: 1) Cool Girls, Inc., a community outreach program to assist girls from minority groups with life skills; 2) Soccer In The Streets, a program which teaches life skills to children as part of a soccer program; and 3) Foundation, Inc., an organization focused on programs for minority youth. In addition, since 2002, CAPT Ching has served as a disaster response volunteer with the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross (ARC). In this capacity, she responds to local disasters as a Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) member, and to national disasters as a member of the Disaster Services Human Resources system, a national data base of qualified disaster service volunteers used by the ARC to evaluate home damage, and assist in the provision of food, shelter, and emergency health services and supplies to individuals affected by disasters. Since 1995, CAPT Ching has served as a volunteer for the Atlanta Marathon and Half-Marathon and since 2001 for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.
CAPT Ching has served the USPHS as a member of the APAOC and SciPAC. Although her tenure on the latter ended in 2003, CAPT Ching has continued to serve the Scientist Category by hosting informal mentoring sessions for new and Junior Scientist Officers at the CDC, co-chairing the SciPAC Mentoring Committee (which recently formulated a network of 34 Senior Officers mentoring 30 Junior officers), and serving on panels to discuss international travel and promotion requirements on Scientist Category Day at the 2005 and 2006 annual COA meetings. CAPT Ching has served on two USPHS Commissioned Corps Personnel Boards, and been an Active member of the CCRF/OFRD since 1999 (resulting in receipt of the FMRB and the NEPA in 2003). CAPT Ching has been deployed in a Liaison capacity for TOPOFF II and III exercises, and in response to Hurricanes Frances, Katrina, and Rita. She has broadened her abilities to serve the USPHS by completing four in-person CCRF training courses in Anniston, Alabama in 2002 (becoming qualified as a Liaison Officer and Emergency Coordinator Augmentee, and to work in mass vaccination/pharmaceutical clinics with the Strategic National Stockpile), and completing OFRD on-line courses to qualify as a Communications Officer and a Safety Officer. CAPT Ching updated her Liaison Officer skills by completing on-line SERT Liaison training in February 2006. Finally, CAPT Ching has received > 400 hours of ARC disaster response training to serve as a volunteer Liaison Officer for the ARC.
In support of her sister Uniformed Services, CAPT Ching is a member of COA, ROA, and AMSUS, and has volunteered at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO in Atlanta since 2001. Her professional achievements, career development, leadership skills, and volunteer activities in support of her community and the USPHS make CAPT Ching most worthy of being receiving the Derek Dunn Memorial Scientist of the Year Award.
Because there is no means by which the SciPAC is able to directly notify supervisors of the availability of these awards, scientist officers are encouraged to ask their supervisors to consider nominating them for these awards.
2006 Derek Dunn Memorial Senior Scientist Officer of the Year
Recipient 2: CDR Francois Lalonde
CDR Lalonde has a distinguished record of accomplishments, most notably in the fields of positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). The early years of his career coincided with the development of new technologies that enabled unprecedented exploration of the human brain in action. Using positron emission tomography (PET), he coauthored a study published in the journal Science which described which regions of the brain stored our knowledge of color and action. Along with PET, the field of functional MRI (FMRI) was in its infancy and CDR Lalonde was one of a handful of researchers who pioneered many of the techniques and instruments used for FMRI, ranging from a visual presentation device which was reviewed by the NIH for a possible patent application to the development of methods of analysis. He helped develop procedures for the acquisition of FMRI data and mentored numerous post-doctoral fellows in the acquisition and analysis of FMRI data receiving a Commendation medal and letter of appreciation from groups within and outside the NIMH. In 1995, he was among the first researchers to describe the presence of regions of the brain that actually fell below their resting level of activity during cognitive tasks.
CDR Lalonde was named the Young Scientist of the Year award in 1996 for his scientific contributions and his service to the Corps. Pending final approval by the OSG, CDR Lalonde is the recipient of an Outstanding Service Medal in recognition of continuous outstanding leadership in carrying out the mission of the Public Health Service particularly in the field of neuroimaging.
More recently, CDR Lalonde was recruited by COL James M. Ecklund, Professor and Chairman of the Neurosurgery Program, National Capital Consortium (Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Centers and Uniformed Services University) to develop FMRI capabilities at the WRAMC and to be a co-principal investigator on an FMRI study of blast-injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Although CDR Lalonde already has a full workload at the NIH, he agreed to be an investigator on the research study. Over the past year, CDR Lalonde has 1) extensively modified the research protocol and added state-of-the-art neuropsychological tests and gene expression analysis components to the study, 2) he was instrumental in having the research protocol approved by the IRB and Human Use Committee, 3) he modified one of the MRI scanners to enable the acquisition fMRI brain scans, 4) he configured and installed the patient stimulus presentation system, and 5) he directed the acquisition and installation of an fMRI data analysis system.
Throughout his career CDR Lalonde has demonstrated professional growth and development. Trained as a neuropsychologist, Dr. Lalonde recognized the potential of neuroimaging early in his career and proceeded to independently acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct neuroimaging research. He mastered and improved upon the technologies that would expand our abilities to understand the relationship between the brain and cognition. He developed his expertise as a neuroimager and demonstrated leadership by mentoring post-doctoral fellows in FMRI acquisition and analysis and organizing an FMRI interest group. Having worked as a Support Scientist in a large group of brain imaging researchers focused on studies of the organization of the brain in healthy individuals he chose to extend the application of these techniques to studies of aging and diseases. He joined the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch in 1998 and developed a state-of-the-art imaging facility dedicated to the study of Alzheimer’s disease. During that time CDR Lalonde demonstrated leadership by establishing contacts with leading brain imaging centers and organizing the training of neuroimaging by experts in neuroanatomy. He drew on his years of experience in FMRI data acquisition and mentored staff and fellows on all aspects of brain imaging. He is a role model for Junior Officers making time to be a member Maryland Mental Health Volunteer Corps, providing FMRI capabilities to Walter Reed AMC, participating in numerous school functions at the local elementary, middle, and high schools including career days.
CDR Lalonde has been actively involved with the SciPAC since he joined the Corps in 1991. He is a past Chair, has served on numerous committees. He is currently co-chair of the committee charged with the revision of the Scientist Category web site. The site was actually first developed by CDR Lalonde in the mid-90’s before web hosting became readily available. He also setup the list server using the facility at the NIH and still manages it today. CDR Lalonde is a basic qualified member of the OFRD and a member of the Commissioned Corps Music Ensemble by virtue of his contributions in maintaining the Ensemble web site. He is a member of the COA and the ROA and has presented at the COA conference.
2006 Young Scientist Officer of the Year
LCDR Laura Draski
LCDR Draski worked as Director of the US Food and Drug Administration Prior Notice Center (PNC) and was recognized for her outstanding work in reducing bioterrorism risks in imported foods. The PNC was established in December 2003 in response to the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism, Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (the Act). Acting under mandates from Congress, the PNC receives, reviews, and responds to information submitted before the importation of all food products into the United States. The review process is designed to conduct risk analyses that detect potential bioterrorism risks and to prevent the importation of food that may be unsafe due to terrorism or other food-related emergencies.
LCDR Draski served as the Deputy Director and later as Director of the PNC. She played a key role in the development of the PNC, helping establish a new office including hiring permanent staff (9 GS-14 Level Supervisors and over 20 GS-11/12/13 Consumer Safety Officers), establishing Performance Goals and Accountability Reports, acquiring workspace, forming working relationships with other FDA offices and divisions, creating an effective team environment and leveraging intelligence resources with other agencies. In recognition of her dedication and professionalism in establishing a new office devoted to bioterrorism, LCDR Draski and the PNC staff were awarded the DHHS Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service for outstanding performance in the planning, establishment and implementation of the PNC to protect our food supply.
The PNC is the first FDA component to be fully operational 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. Being a leader of an office that operates with three shifts on a 24/7 basis presents its own challenges. In this respect, LCDR Draski goes above and beyond in being accessible and interacting and working with individuals on every shift, even when it means being in the office outside of normal business hours, overnight, as well as on weekends and holidays. To accomplish this, she routinely puts in an immeasurable amount of time at work with most weeks consuming 60-70 hours. In addition, since this office is devoted to responding to emerging bioterrorism threats within discrete timeframes, she truly is on call 24/7 and has spent countless nights, weekends and holidays countering purported threats to our country.
The PNC is co-located at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Targeting Center with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Designed to be interactive, the space and resources are shared with liaisons from other federal and intelligence agencies, including but not limited to the FBI, ICE, Border Patrol, Container Security Initiative Teams, TSA, USDA, Coast Guard, Federal Air Marshals and the Fraudulent Document Analysis Unit. In order to evaluate the risks associated with the food shipment information, the PNC utilizes sophisticated computer systems, complex databases and electronic intelligence from CBP and other agencies. LCDR Draski first was instrumental in breaking down those systems and understanding the information it provided so FDA could develop its own rule-based threat matrix to be used as a quantitative guide for the overall risk assessment. After assisting with developing the higher level rule sets, LCDR Draski declassified and translated the procedure into language that could be presented to all personnel in the office.
For PNC to be successful in preventing bioterrorism, it is essential to leverage and share not only electronic resources and databases but to develop collaborative office, field and national procedures with other agencies. LCDR Draski assisted in the development of national policies and procedures that are utilized throughout the investigation field offices as well as within the PNC. She routinely works with Customs on coordinating the transmission of shipment data between our systems so that safe cargo is not impeded from entering the country. She also has been very active in outlining and interpreting the prior notice regulations and legal procedures as FDA collaborates with CBP on the issuance of the Prior Notice Final Rule that amends the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. For her role in this tremendously successful collaborative effort, LCDR Draski received the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation as a member of the FDA and US Customs Targeting Initiative for leadership, initiative, and successful achievement in establishing the PNC procedures and joint targeting capabilities. This was later reinforced with a Unit Commendation Award. To date, the PNC has conducted security reviews on over 150,000 different lines of food and, in conjunction with CBP, has stopped over 25 shipments for examination and sampling under the Bioterrorism Act. In addition, LCDR Draski was one of the FDA leads on a national level case involving a container ship heading towards Newark, NJ, that reportedly was carrying lemons tainted with an unknown biological substance.
Since the area of bioterrorism risk assessment and targeting was novel to FDA, the agency offered no formally recognized training in the area. LCDR Draski distinguished herself by seeking outside material and becoming a self-taught bioterrorism and targeting expert. Although this training is not reflected in any type of coursework or continuing education credits, it was and is commendably achieved and should not be overlooked or understated. Indeed, during her time at the PNC, LCDR Draski used her knowledge and experience to help establish an internal training program in the subject matter and has successfully trained over 170 detailed and permanent PNC employees. In addition, she is now part of the FDA training cadre and routinely lectures on the topic in formal courses for the agency. She also has been invited to speak at FDA Outreach Conferences and regularly gives presentations and briefings about the implementation of prior notice and the Bioterrorism Act to a variety of groups including executives from the White House OMB, the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, and DHS Deputy Secretary Jackson.
In addition to having the tremendous responsibility of providing leadership, guidance, counsel and direction in the management of the overall operations of the PNC, LCDR Draski has taken the initiative to devise innovative ways that the PNC can contribute to the public health and food defense mission of the FDA. In the past year, FDA has worked on incorporating food defense strategies into surveillance and food safety assignments. To test our overall responsiveness to an increased threat level associated with several food commodities, the PNC played a major role in the nationwide FDA Food Security Surveillance Assignment (FSSA). The assignment was designed to integrate food safety and defense by incorporating a field to table-top risk assessment and overview. Under LCDR Draski’s leadership, the PNC developed procedures to assess risks at various points in the imported food supply and distribution chain such that food facility inspections, food shipment examinations, and food product sampling could be prioritized for the field. During the FSSA, the PNC assessed and prioritized 14,794 food products contained in 9058 shipments.
In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that affected Asia and East Africa, FDA became concerned about products potentially contaminated by the devastation being shipped to the US. LCDR Draski worked with her office to remodel and adapt some of the electronic information and systems normally used in their office to focus on the importation of FDA regulated products from this area. The PNC identified 340 anticipated shipments of interest for possible follow-up by field staff upon arrival in the US. Out of these shipments, nine examination and sampling assignments were sent to the field resulting in one shipment being deemed violative and refused and another shipment being immediately re-exported. Before the existence of the Prior Notice Center and the development and adaptation of their targeting protocols, these types of assignments would not have been possible.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, LCDR Draski and her office once again performed above and beyond the scope of their mission. Given the disaster situation in the Gulf Coast, the State Department directed the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to establish a 24/7 Emergency Operations Center in Arlington, VA, to coordinate and facilitate the many donations of foreign relief supplies and financial assistance offered by our friends and allied countries from around the world. Due to the regulatory policies involved with the importation and receipt of a number of these items and the 24/7 nature of the emergency, the PNC staffed the OFDA office from September 8 to September 28, 2005 to assist in these humanitarian efforts. The primary focus of the PNC staff was to identify, provide advice and facilitate the shipment of foreign relief items regulated by the FDA to assure that only safe food and safe and effective drugs and medical devices were released into distribution by government emergency response personnel. During the three weeks that LCDR Draski and the PNC staff were stationed with OFDA, a total of fifty three (53) relief shipments were cleared by the State Department and arrived by air at the Little Rock Air Force Base. Some of the countries sending donations included the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Russia, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, India, Thailand, Chile, Slovakia, Czech, Slovenia, Denmark, Norway, and Peru. In addition, the PNC handled other relief shipments arriving via Canada and Mexico that were not recognized and cleared by the State Department. These shipments including bottled water and ice from contractors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and assorted donated products from various charity organizations that were not covered by the OFDA scope of operation. LCDR Draski was instrumental in establishing her office at the OFDA site and continues to have her staff work with OFDA and other agencies to develop better emergency importation procedures in times of disaster. It also should be pointed out that LCDR Draski oversaw this operation as a collateral duty to the primary PNC operations.
Even though much of her time has been occupied with establishing this new office for FDA, LCDR Draski still has found time to be a model Commissioned Corps Officer and participate in Corps activities. She is a BOTC graduate, CCRF Basic Qualified, and a member of COA. When possible, she participates in the SciPAC meetings. Unfortunately, this is not always possible since most of the meetings are conducted in the middle of the work day when she has even less free time. LCDR Draski recently told me that she volunteered for two sub-committees in her PAC and she appears ready and committed to contributing to these groups. I know that one of the committees is concerned with Career Development, and I can’t think of a better person to be on that committee. LCDR Draski has a proven track record of taking on additional roles and increasing responsibilities and, as a Director in FDA, is operating well above her rank. Although she is not eligible for promotion until the 2008 cycle, FDA recognized her significant leadership contributions and nominated her for and Exceptional Proficiency Promotion this year.
LCDR Draski’s dedication, commitment and conviction to protecting the public health exemplify the role of the Public Health Service Commissioned Officer. She has spent countless hours assessing the operations and risks associated with the importation of food into the United States to ensure that the food supply of the American citizens is safe from terrorist attack or other food related emergencies.