NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

NIAMS Division Director McGowan Retires

Dr. Joan McGowan
Dr. Joan McGowan

Dr. Joan McGowan, director of the NIAMS Division of Musculoskeletal Diseases, has retired. In her 30-year career at NIAMS, McGowan led a program of research on basic muscle and skeletal biology; orthopaedics, osteoarthritis, bioengineering, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine; muscle physiology and muscle diseases; and osteoporosis and related bone diseases.

“Joan played a pivotal role during my tenure as director and initiated and innovated a great number of cross-cutting federal research programs as well as programs critical to the institute,” said NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz. “Her career at the NIH has been truly exemplary, with a broad and sustained impact on public health matters and on NIH programs.”

McGowan served as a project officer and an osteoporosis consultant for the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term NIH-supported study that began in 1991 and focused on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. She was the NIH organizer of a Consensus Development Conference on Optimal Calcium Intake in 1994, and one on osteoporosis in 2000.

She co-chaired the federal working group on bone diseases whose members represent federal agencies with activities in osteoporosis and related bone diseases. “Joan was the face of bone research at the NIH for many years,” said NICHD’s Dr. Karen Winer. “She brought much candor, wisdom and intelligence to her work and appreciated the profound impact of decisions made on the lives of investigators and the many people who depend on their funded projects.”

McGowan was the senior scientific editor of Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General, published in 2004. The following year, during a visit to campus by Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, she briefed them on key messages in the report.

McGowan’s oversight of musculoskeletal research extended into space when NIH and NASA entered into a 2007 agreement to support research aboard the International Space Station. The initiative, BioMed-ISS, encouraged scientists to use the ISS to answer questions about human health and diseases.

McGowan briefs surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Charles.
McGowan (r) briefs surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona (l), the Duchess of Cornwall (second from l) and Prince Charles (third from l) during a 2005 royal visit to NIH.

McGowan’s division played a leading role in the 2015 Common Fund’s Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity program (MoTrPAC). An expert roundtable discussion organized from within her division came up with the idea; it came to fruition through NIH-wide organization and leadership. MoTrPAC’s co-coordinator, Dr. Maren Laughlin of NIDDK, said, “Joan should be celebrated for scientific leadership and foresight. She was a hands-on leader of the study throughout the NIH design and consortium planning stages, bringing passion for the science to the table in addition to deep NIH organizational and policy experience.”

Before joining NIH, McGowan was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. She received her master’s degree in nutritional science from Cornell University and her doctorate in biomedical science from Brown University. She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

In reflecting on her retirement, McGowan remarked, “As gardeners know, it is difficult to prune. I have to cut off some really important and very fulfilling parts of my working life. But I need this to make room for new growth and development. I am not going to turn into a gardener, but more time enjoying nature and time with my family will be welcome!”

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