What We Do:
The Science Policy Branch provides scientific leadership and advice on a wide range of drug abuse research and policy issues:
- Synthesizes and disseminates information about NIDA-supported science and programmatic activities.
- Identifies, analyzes, and prepares briefing materials on behalf of the Institute.
- Develops and provides scientific review of NIDA publications and multimedia initiatives.
- Serves as the Institute liaison to public and private stakeholder groups and coordinates science meetings to share research advances.
- Provides timely responses to inquiries from Congress, other public agencies, professional organizations, and the public.
- Directs and administers NIDA’s science education program.
- Coordinates NIDA's research training and career development program.
- Coordinates NIDA’s performance reporting, program evaluation, OMB clearance for NIDA-sponsored data collections, and animal welfare-related activities.
Gayathri J. Dowling, Ph.D., Branch Chief, SPB
Dr. Dowling is Chief of the Science Policy Branch in the Office of Science Policy and Communications at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health. In this role, she helps to educate a variety of audiences about the science of drug abuse and addiction—developing, guiding, and targeting communications for many different audiences, including Congress, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, other Federal Agencies, constituency organizations, physicians, and the general public. Her varied tasks include reviewing all NIDA’s communications; developing publications, outreach initiatives, and other multimedia campaigns; conducting portfolio analyses; working on interagency committees; representing NIDA to the media; and more. Before coming to NIDA, Dr. Dowling was a Program Officer at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, where she managed grants aimed at increasing the number of minority researchers working in different areas of neuroscience. She also served as a Scientific Review Administrator at the National Institute of Mental Health, overseeing scientific reviews of proposed research. Dr. Dowling earned a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from the University of California at Davis, where she studied the developing nervous system and subsequently conducted research on nicotine and Parkinson's Disease. Along with publishing multiple scientific papers and a range of multimedia products, Dr. Dowling has earned numerous awards and widespread recognition for her work.
Ruben Baler, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Ruben Baler joined the Science Policy Branch in NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications in October 2004 as a Health Science Administrator. His early publications focused on gene promoter architecture and gene expression in the brain’s clock. At NIDA, he writes and lectures about the neurobiology of drug abuse and addiction for a range of audiences. Dr. Baler has gathered critical insight from diverse disciplines, which he combines to advance NIDA’s scientific mission as it intersects with cellular and molecular biology, genetics, immunology, bioinformatics, neuroscience, and neuroethics. Dr. Baler’s many contributions to other dissemination efforts include scientific writing (English and Spanish), teaching, public speaking to lay audiences, and fielding interview requests for a variety of print, radio, and broadcast media outlets. Prior to coming to NIDA, Dr. Baler worked at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he conducted basic research on the molecular basis of circadian gene expression in vertebrates. He received his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Biology from the University of Miami in 1993 and completed his postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, specializing in Molecular Chronobiology.
Ericka Boone, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Ericka Boone is a Health Scientist Administrator within NIDA’s Science Policy Branch (SPB) of the Office of Science Policy and Communications. She helps to advance NIDA’s scientific mission by developing science-based publications, outreach initiatives, and other activities that inform the scientific community and the public about issues related to drug use, abuse, and addiction. Dr. Boone received her Ph.D. in Biobehavioral Health from The Pennsylvania State University; until joining SPB, she conducted basic and clinical research in the areas of social neuroscience, genetics, molecular biology and drug abuse.
Usha Charya, Program Analyst
Ms. Charya joined the Science Policy Branch of the Office of Science Policy and Communications (OSPC) in 2006 and serves as the Project Officer for the NIDA OSPC Science Meeting and Conference Services contract. Ms. Charya works with contract and program staff across the Institute and NIH to plan, coordinate, and execute scientific conferences and meetings. She serves as liaison to professional and scientific organizations partnering with NIDA in planning and sponsoring such conferences and events. In addition, Ms. Charya serves as NIDA liaison to the NIH Diversity Council. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Delhi University, India, and Bachelor of Communication and Journalism from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India. Prior to joining NIDA, Ms. Charya worked as an event planner and government meetings contractor for over 20 years.
Jessica Cotto, Epidemiologist
Ms. Cotto joined the Science Policy Branch of the Office of Science Policy and Communications as an Epidemiologist in January 2009. Her primary responsibilities include analyzing data and synthesizing information from disparate sources to identify trends related to substance abuse. She is also responsible for analyzing data on the use of prescription medications and for overseeing and monitoring the contract that provides this information. She has over 6 years of experience in statistical analysis, procedures and methods, and database management. In the past year, Ms. Cotto has assumed responsibility for a variety of interagency activities, including coordinating (a) NIDA’s contribution to implementing the White House National Drug Control Strategy and Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan and (b) NIDA’s role on a Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse Among Youth. Prior to NIDA, Ms. Cotto served as a Clinical Research Associate for The Children's National Medical Center, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Cancer Institute. She is also a co-author on several scientific manuscripts published in such journals as the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from San Diego State University and a Master’s of Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from George Washington University.
Genevieve deAlmeida-Morris, Ph.D., Health Research Evaluator
Dr. deAlmeida-Morris joined the Science Policy Branch in the Office of Science Policy and Communications in 2004 as a Health Science Administrator (Health Research Evaluator). Her primary responsibilities include evaluation, Office of Management and Budget clearance, and Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) coordination. Prior to coming to NIDA, Dr. deAlmeida-Morris worked at the National Institute of Nursing Research as Acting Chief of the Office of Science Policy and Communications and as Program Analyst for Evaluation; at the Veterans Health Administration as Health Science Specialist; and at the Fogarty International Center writing evaluation proposals. She conducts successful program evaluations of NIDA’s research and dissemination programs and of trans-NIH programs for which NIDA has the lead. She serves on trans-NIH Workgroups and Evaluation Committees for GPRA, research training, and for the evaluation of trans-NIH programs such as the NIH Common Fund.
Jennifer C. Katt, Deputy Branch Chief, Science Policy Branch
Ms. Katt joined the Science Policy Branch (SPB) in NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications in October 2005. In her current role as Deputy Branch Chief, she assists the SPB Branch Chief in managing a diverse range of communications products and deliverables for multiple internal and external audiences. These include everything from research reports, strategic plans, and formal reports for Congress to fact sheets, teen and physician outreach, and letters responding to public inquiries—on behalf of NIDA and the larger NIH community. Ms. Katt also serves as the “voice” of the Sara Bellum Blog, NIDA’s first blog for teens and the first Federal Government blog to accept comments from teens. Prior to serving in her present position, Ms. Katt was a senior science writer for SPB. And before coming to NIDA, she was president of her small communications business for 12 years, working mainly as a science and marketing writer on Federal Government contracts, including those for NIDA and other health/science organizations. Ms. Katt has a Master’s Degree in English (Professional Writing and Editing), and is co–developer of a writing curriculum titled "7 Steps to Better Writing."
Melissa (Mimi) Ghim, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Ghim has served as the Deputy Research Training Coordinator in the Science Policy Branch, Office of Science Policy and Communications, since 2006. She provides policy oversight of the various training and career development programs at NIDA, also overseeing their day-to-day administration. Dr. Ghim earned her doctoral degree from the Integrative Neuroscience Program at the University of Maryland, specializing in the neuroscience of the visual system and the application of behavioral and electrophysiological techniques with optical imaging—experience acquired during her postdoctoral appointment at SUNY Upstate Medical University. Following her postdoc, she was involved in project-based administration and scientific writing at a consulting company.
Meena Karithanom, M.P.H., Epidemiologist/Research Associate (Contractor)
Ms. Karithanom is a contractor currently serving as an Epidemiologist/Research Associate in the Science Policy Branch, Office of Science Policy and Communications. Her primary responsibilities include analyzing and presenting data on the use of prescription medications among young and aging populations, including geographical prescription patterns, physician prescribing habits, and patient demographics. She also reviews and coordinates NIDA input on multiple trans-NIH and HHS reports relating to NIDA’s research programs and contributes to various NIDA publications and reports for Congress. Prior to NIDA, Ms. Karithanom served as a Clinical Research Associate for cancer clinical trials at the EMMES Corporation. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Administration from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a Master’s of Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from George Washington University.
Juanita Nelson, Program Assistant
Ms. Nelson joined the Science Policy Branch (SPB) in NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications (OSPC) in June 1999 as a Program Assistant, providing substantive support and assistance to the SPB Branch Chief and staff, and other senior OSPC staff. She manages various administrative duties, such as processing and submitting procurement requisitions, training nominations, travel authorizations, and payment vouchers, and coordinating meetings for the branch. Prior to joining NIDA, Ms. Nelson served as a Printing Specialist at the Department of Defense for 8 years. There she accepted work directly from customers; prepared the technical contract procurement or in-house specifications required to get the jobs printed; managed the production, automatic distribution, and stocking of sponsored publications; and handled procurement of miscellaneous printing materials for headquarters personnel, field activities, and other Naval and Department of Defense activities.
Michele L. Rankin, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Rankin joined the Office of Science Policy and Communications in December 2011 as a Health Scientist Administrator in the Science Policy Branch, where she helps to advance NIDA’s scientific mission by developing science-based educational documents and other materials and reports that inform the scientific community and public about drug use, abuse, and addiction. She also serves as the office contact for HIV and HCV materials, aids in the analysis of the NIDA research portfolio, and manages official reporting of the Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) database. She received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University and conducted her post-doctoral research in the intramural program at the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), where she focused on the molecular mechanisms that govern dopamine D1 receptor signaling. In 2010 she joined the NINDS Division of Extramural Research as a Health Program Specialist in the Neurodegeneration Cluster, where she helped manage the research portfolio for Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and others. Dr. Rankin is also an Adjunct Associate Professor for UMUC and has taught and guest lectured for the NIH graduate school offered through the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES).
Cathrine Sasek, Ph.D., Health Scientist Administrator
Dr. Sasek has been a Health Scientist Administrator in the Science Policy Branch, Office of Science Policy and Communications, since 1990. Shortly after coming to NIDA, Dr. Sasek initiated NIDA's Science Education Program, which she currently coordinates. Her other duties include serving as co-chair of NIDA’s Neuroscience Consortium and as NIDA’s Animal Welfare Coordinator. Dr. Sasek received her doctoral degree in Anatomy with an emphasis in Neuroscience from the University of Minnesota in 1985, followed by 2 years at Harvard Medical School as a postdoctoral research fellow before joining the Pharmacology Department at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
Jane Smither, Program Analyst
Ms. Smither joined the Office of Science Policy and Communications (OSPC) staff in October 1996 as a Program Analyst. While Ms. Smither plays a key role is all aspects of NIDA/OSPC public outreach activities, her primary role is that of NIDA Constituent Relations Liaison, which encompasses a wide range of activities, special projects, and collaborations with key outside organizations to advance the mission. Prior to NIDA, Ms. Smither served as a senior staff member to Congressman E. (Kika) de la Garza of South Texas for 16 years until his retirement at the end of the 104th Congress. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from the University of Maryland.
Nancy Soulen, J.D., Program Analyst
Ms. Soulen has served as Senior Advisor on law, legislation and regulations in the Science Policy Branch of NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications since August 1990, also providing services throughout the Institute. She received undergraduate degrees in zoology and sociology/anthropology from Wellesley College, her J.D. degree from Georgetown University School of Law, and graduate training in medicine and public health. She worked for 6 years in biomedical research at Harvard and is a member of the New York Bar, with 8 years of practice in the private sector as Assistant Legislative Counsel, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (PMA); Associate General Counsel, Washington Office of the Council of State Governments; and Senior Attorney, American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA). She has 42 years of Federal employment, including serving as Attorney Advisor, HHS OGC; Staff Attorney, ADAMHA/NIDA; and Legal Advisor.
Isabelle Thibau, Program Analyst (Contractor)
Isabelle Thibau joined NIDA as a contractor in 2011 and works with the Science Policy Branch (SPB) in the Office of Science Policy and Communications, and with the Office of the Director (OD). In SPB, she works with science writers to edit publications, including The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse Among Youth and the “Sara Bellum Blog,” and uses databases to retrieve accurate information on current research and NIDA grants. In OD, she manages databases on diversity grantees and also is involved in coordinating NIDA’s Summer Research program for high school and undergraduate students.
Eric Wargo Ph.D., Science Writer (Contractor)
Dr. Wargo currently serves as a Science Writer in the Science Policy Branch (SPB) of NIDA’s Office of Science Policy and Communications. Before coming to NIH in 2012, he was Editorial Director at the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, DC. There he managed two top-ranked journals: Current Directions in Psychological Science and Psychological Science in the Public Interest. In SPB, Dr. Wargo writes and edits a variety of materials for a range of audiences, including fact sheets, blog posts, and other web materials; treatment guides for clinicians; and responses to congressional inquiries and other special projects. He received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Emory University in 2000.