Dr. Belinda Seto joined the National Eye Institute (NEI) as its deputy director on April 7, 2014. She comes to NEI from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), where she served as deputy director for 11 years, starting just three years after NIBIB was established.
Her professional career—and lifelong passion—in biomedical research actually started at NIH. After earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue University in 1974, she started a postdoctoral fellowship with Drs. Earl and Thressa Stadtman at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The Stadtmans—who are the namesake of the NIH Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigators program—led a world-class biochemistry lab. Their research helped establish some of the basic principles found in today’s biochemistry textbooks, including enzyme function and regulation.
The pair was also famous for a mentoring style that became known as the Stadtman way. Dr. Seto said the Stadtmans treated their lab like a family, but that they were also tough and could deliver rapid-fire critiques to their students and postdocs. “They fostered rigorous scientific debates. I learned that criticism should not only be accepted but appreciated,” Dr. Seto said. “They also taught me to take risks and not be afraid of failed experiments, and that negative experiments are often as informative as those that worked as predicted.”
After completing her postdoc, she took those critical thinking skills to the Food and Drug Administration to conduct research on hepatitis B and vaccine development. About ten years later, she returned to NIH, and soon took a position at the Office of Extramural Research (OER), where she oversaw the analysis and reporting of NIH grants data. She ultimately became the deputy director and then the acting director of OER before moving to NIBIB.
The skills she applied in her research have served her well in analyzing trends, needs and opportunities in the extramural research world, Dr. Seto said. “Whether you’re doing research or in a position to guide research policies, you always need to think about what’s going to yield the most productivity,” she said.
While at NIBIB, she began helping steer the institute’s management of “big data,” which refers to the ballooning volumes of data produced in research, especially through medical imaging. She continues to serve on the executive committee of the NIH Big Data to Knowledge initiative (BD2K) and its oversight body, the NIH Scientific Data Council, which are providing researchers with better tools and training to deal with big data.
Dr. Seto is also continuing the tradition of mentorship she learned in the Stadtman lab. She has chaired the NIH working group on women in bioengineering, which aims to recruit and advance women in the bioengineering field, and she is a recipient of the Ruth Kirschstein mentoring award.
She was attracted to NEI, she said, because the vision research community has been at the forefront of pioneering areas such as stem cell therapy and gene therapy. And this was a fortuitous time to join the institute, she said. The NEI Audacious Goals Initiative recently launched and will seek ways to regenerate damaged nerve cells within the visual system. “My biggest challenge is to help NEI reach that goal,” she said.
Last Updated: April 2014