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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

CSR Director Nakamura Retires

Dr. Richard Nakamura

Dr. Richard Nakamura

“One of the great joys of my 39+ year career at NIH has been working with so many extramural scientists and staff who care deeply about the future of science and NIH research,” said Dr. Richard Nakamura, who retired as director of the Center for Scientific Review on Apr. 30. “Their service has made NIH a great powerhouse for science and health.

“I had planned on retiring a year after the NIH director asked me to re-stabilize the situation within scientific review in 2011,” he continued. “But instead, I became engaged with the great people at CSR and the important work that needed to be done.”

There was indeed a lot of work. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins praised Nakamura for helping CSR face multiple challenges: “During his tenure, Richard dealt with an historic increase in applications, multiple policy changes and a host of other challenges, including the recovery from the 2013 government shutdown,” he said.

“Richard demonstrated extraordinary leadership abilities, guiding the center forward while earning historically high approval ratings from his staff,” Collins continued. “He implemented improved and more efficient review procedures; advanced studies of NIH peer review including the possible impact of an investigator’s race in review scores; created new venues for employee input; and increased training and diversity of the center’s leadership.”

“I figured there wasn’t a better time to step back and let others lead,” said Nakamura. “I am thus very thankful that Dr. Noni Byrnes agreed to step in as acting CSR director to lead CSR forward until a new director can be named.” Byrnes recently was CSR’s acting deputy director and director of its Division of Basic and Integrative Biological Sciences.

“CSR and NIH peer review still face significant challenges,” Nakamura continued. “The numbers of incoming applications keep going up while paylines remain at historic lows, new policies continue to emerge and the need to assess and advance the quality of NIH reviews remains a pressing one. Fortunately, CSR is a strong organization with a highly qualified staff that’s deeply dedicated to peer review.”

Nakamura came to CSR after a 32-year tenure at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he had served as both scientific director and deputy director as well as acting director from 2001 to 2002. For his extraordinary efforts, he earned the Presidential Rank Award and other leadership awards.

Collins also praised him as “a staunch defender of the quality of NIH-supported research…For example, when NIMH’s basic research funding was questioned by Congress and the media in 1995, Richard coordinated a robust defense that led Sam Donaldson of ABC News’ Prime Time Live to say he thought he was investigating ‘the motherlode of government waste’ but he found NIMH studies were ‘a bargain at twice the price.’”

While Nakamura will now enjoy extended travels and more time with his wife and grandchildren, “he isn’t retiring from his passions that drove his efforts at NIH,” said Collins. “He plans to volunteer at CSR to ensure some of the studies he started will be finished.”

Nakamura also is excited to be free from the fetters of federal employment—he wants to be a vocal advocate for mental health. No one knows what he might say, but it should be interesting given that he has been called one of the most thoughtful leaders among the NIH institute and center directors.

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