NIDCD Director Battey Retires After 35 Years of Public Service
For more than two decades, Dr. Jim Battey Jr. has been a pillar of support and leadership for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, guiding research in hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech and language. On June 1, he retired as NIDCD director. He was a dedicated public servant for 35 years, joining NIH in 1983. He also served as a member of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for more than 21 years, until retiring as a rear admiral in 2008.
“Jim’s leadership has helped carry NIH through historic challenges and opportunities over the years,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.
Under Battey’s leadership, NIDCD-supported researchers developed the tools and programs necessary to implement newborn hearing screening. He fostered the partnership between NIH, the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that established and maintains this program. Today, nearly all babies in the U.S. now have their hearing tested shortly after birth. “Early hearing screenings allow parents to assess their options and decide on the best way to support their child’s developing communication,” said Battey.
He also fostered initiatives to improve the accessibility and affordability of hearing health care. Even though about 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from hearing aids, only 1 in 4 has ever tried one, with many citing cost as a deterring factor. NIDCD’s research laid an evidence-based foundation for a law passed in August 2017 that will make hearing health care more accessible and affordable for many Americans. The law requires the Food and Drug Administration to create a category of over-the-counter hearing aids for adults with perceived mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
Battey contributed significantly across NIH and the broader scientific community. “Jim’s leadership was crucial for launching NIH’s research initiatives using human embryonic stem cells,” Collins said. In 2002, Battey became the first chair of the NIH stem cell task force and testified in Congress on several occasions. Under his leadership, the task force brought together leaders in the field to identify barriers to stem cell research and to develop ideas to overcome them.
“Jim has been instrumental in some of the biggest advances in our field, including identifying dozens of genes and genetic mutations linked to hearing loss, language development and stuttering,” said Dr. Judith Cooper, NIDCD deputy director. She will serve as acting NIDCD director until a permanent director is named.
Battey is widely recognized for his own discoveries about G-protein-coupled receptors, particularly a subgroup of these receptors responsible for taste perception. During Battey’s tenure as director, NIDCD supported a Nobel Prize-winning researcher credited with clarifying the molecular and cellular bases of our sense of smell.
“I am proud to have served NIDCD, an institute that pushes the boundaries of knowledge to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans with communication disorders,” reflected Battey. “I feel honored to have worked with so many dedicated and creative staff and researchers through the years. We could not have accomplished what we have so far without their contributions.”
Battey received a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1974, and an M.D. and Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University in 1980. He started his NIH career in 1983 at the National Cancer Institute, where he served as a senior staff fellow, then senior investigator. He later headed the molecular neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the molecular structure section when he returned to NCI in 1992. He joined NIDCD in 1995, when he was appointed scientific director, and was named NIDCD director on Feb. 10, 1998. Among his many honors, Battey was awarded the PHS Commendation Medal in 1990 and the PHS Outstanding Service Medal in 1994.
Battey will return to his home state of California to spend more time with his family and to volunteer tutoring public school students in science.