Exploring the Fundamental
Mechanisms of Inheritance and Development
By Karen Young Kreeger
H. Greenberg, Ph.D. 72
On the evening of Aug. 9,
2001, like most of her colleagues at the National
Institutes of Health, Judith H. Greenberg, Ph.D.
72, watched President Bush's televised speech
on stem-cell research. At the end of the speech,
he mentioned that some 60 cell lines fitting his
criteria for public research funds were already
collected and would soon be in an online registry.
I was lying in bed that night, I said to myself:
You know, I've had a lot of experience with
bioethical issues. I've had a lot of experience
with cell lines," recalls Greenberg,
director of the Division of Genetics and Developmental
Biology at the National Institute of General Medical
Sciences (NIGMS), Bethesda, Md. "I just had
a sense that I'm going to have an involvement
in this somehow."
At 9 a.m. the next morning,
the phone rang at her desk. It was Ruth Kirschstein,
acting NIH director, asking Greenberg to set up
the Web-based stem-cell registry. Greenberg's
responsibility was to decide what information
was essential for the registry, assemble it from
the providers of the cell lines and organize it
in a user-friendly way, with the aid of a Web
designer. "It was an extremely interesting
process because there was a lot of politics that
went into this, and there were a lot of expectations
about these cell lines. My job was to make sure
these expectations were met," she says.
The Big Questions
This description could sum
up any of the issues that Greenberg has taken
on in her 20 years in administration at NIGMS
large, complicated and sometimes messy
projects that look at the big picture. She attributes
her love of the overarching questions that confront
science to her days at Bryn Mawr studying under
the late Jane Oppenheimer 32, the former
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Biology and
the History of Science.
was a tremendous influence on me not on
the research or administration I ended up doing,
but in terms of teaching me to think about the
big questions." Greenberg was Oppenheimer's
last Ph.D. student; her thesis focused on the
development of thrombocytes in chick embryos.
Thrombocytes are akin to platelets, the blood
clotting cells in mammals.
Warren, now a professor of health economics at
George Washington University, also received his
Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr in 1972, in economics. Before
the Greenbergs were married Judith was at Boston
University finishing up her M.A. in biology. Warren
was already working on his Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr,
and when they decided to get married, he suggested
that she apply to the College. "I had heard
of Jane Oppenheimer, and she was a big attraction
for bringing me to Bryn Mawr," she recalls.
After leaving Bryn Mawr, Greenberg
did a postdoc at the American Red Cross National
Blood Research Laboratory, Rockville, Md. In 1974,
she became an intramural scientist at the now
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial
Research, Bethesda, Md., returning to her "first
love," developmental biology. At NIDCR she
studied the differentiation of neural crest cells,
important cells in early animal development. In
1981, she moved into administration at NIGMS,
becoming a branch chief and eventually the director
of the division in 1989. As director, she administers
and oversees research in basic developmental biology
and genetics, which covers an approximately $400
million research-grant portfolio.
guess my career path has been very straight,"
Greenberg comments, adding that because of its
variety, the position is "anything but boring."
She doesn't shy away from controversial issues.
In fact, she relishes ones fraught with ethical
quandaries. One of her largest responsibilities
from the time she started at NIGMS was to oversee
the Human Genetic Cell Repository, a collection
of cell lines from individuals with genetic disorders,
family members and controls. A portion of the
collection also contains samples from members
of identified populations such as those of Northern
European, African American, Middle Eastern, and
Japanese descent. Cell lines from these populations
are useful to researchers studying genetic variation.
A few years ago geneticists
studying human variation suggested that NIH should
be collecting more samples from identified groups.
"We realized that before collecting these
samples we needed to talk with the various communities
to find out their concerns about the potential
for discrimination and stigmatization."
Airing these concerns was
the impetus for the First Community Consultation
on the Responsible Collection and Use of Samples
for Genetic Research, held on September 25-26,
2000, which Greenberg organized. Seventy-five
people, mostly nonscientists from diverse ethnic
and racial groups from outside NIH, plus an equal
number of NIH administrative staff, attended the
meeting. The participants from different ethnic
and racial groups had a lot to say that went beyond
sample collection, recalls Greenberg. "It
made me realize there was a great lack of communication
between researchers and the public." The
report of the meeting can be accessed at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/news/reports/community_
Since the meeting it has been
Greenbergs mission to encourage community
consultation in situations where it is warranted,
and she finds that scientists are beginning to
understand the value of community involvement.
She chairs a working group within the NIH that
is putting the finishing touches on a document
titled "Points to Consider When Planning
a Genetic Study that Involves Members of Named
"It's not a new set of requirements
or rules," explains Greenberg. "It is meant to
be a consciousness-raising document."
Besides this report, Greenberg
says, the other major project on her desk is putting
together a basic stem-cell biology workshop to
be held in June 2002, an outgrowth of her work
on the registry. "Up until now NIGMS has
had really no interest in stem cells because this
has not been a basic research question,"
she says. "But the more I learned about stem
cells, the more I realized that one area of research
is really missing." The more clinically oriented
institutes involved in stem-cell research focus
on how stem cells differentiate into other tissue
types, but have not addressed the underlying mechanisms
that keep cells undifferentiated, or why they
start to differentiate.
Greenberg says the workshop
aims to bring together basic scientists with some
of the foremost stem-cell investigators to promote
collaborations, as well as to determine what kind
of program announcement or request for applications
NIGMS can devise for the next phase of basic stem-cell
About the Author
Karen Young Kreeger is a science
journalist who writes on biomedical and womens
health topics, as well as careers in science.
Her most recent work has appeared in Bioscience,
Genome Technology, Muse and The