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Olden To Leave Directorship But Remain at NIH

Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Toxicology Program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, announced his intention on July 29 to step down from both posts, but said he will remain in the positions until a replacement can be found. He intends to remain a staff scientist in NIH's intramural program.

"I want to spend more time with my family and be more involved in directing my research program," he said. "I have been the NIEHS/NTP director for 12 years — the longest I have stayed in any position. That I have remained this long as director is the best indication of how much I have enjoyed the scientific and public health challenges of leading these great institutions."

Dr. Kenneth Olden
Olden, who has been active in laboratory research during his whole dozen years leading NIEHS, will return to more direct involvement in studies with colleague Dr. Steven Akiyama on signal transduction and cell adhesion mechanisms, which he began in NCI's intramural program in 1974. His home laboratory was recently reviewed "with good marks" by the board of scientific counselors, Olden said, and the lab may soon employ one or two more scientists.

"Ken's commitment to the advancement of science has been a model to us all at the NIH," said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. "He is known for his vision and his outreach and communication efforts. In addition, Ken has helped young, minority scientists and called attention to the excessive health burdens borne by the poor."

Born in the eastern Tennessee farming community of Parrottsville, Olden rose to become, in 1991, the first African American to head an NIH institute.

Olden conducted town meetings around the country to help inform the scientific community of his decisions regarding NIEHS's future research activities. Under his leadership, the institute's research portfolio broadened from primarily basic biology into such human studies as the 50,000-women Sister Study— the largest study of its type seeking to find both environmental and genetic clues to breast cancer. Olden also developed the NIEHS publication Environmental Health Perspectives as a monthly journal with a section devoted to toxicogenomics.

"I have particularly enjoyed, and been impressed with, Dr. Olden's vision to expand the range of environmental health research and to ensure its relevance toward addressing real-world environmental health problems," said Dr. Sam Wilson, NIEHS deputy director. "It has been an honor and pleasure to work with him. His leadership has shaped the field of environmental health research as we know it today and for many years to come."

Olden also promoted the use of genetic tools to determine our varying susceptibility to environmental hazards — ow the environment helps or harms human health. His observation that human diseases are generally the product of a triangle of environment, genetics and age has become widely accepted.

"Dr. Olden's presence will be sorely missed at the NIEHS," said scientific director Dr. Lutz Birnbaumer. "He is a very intense man with one of the highest standards of excellence of anyone I have met...During his tenure, the budget of the NIEHS expanded from $241 million in 1991, to the current $614 million, and with it, the division of intramural research expanded. In 1993, he restructured DIR...and paid close attention to the advice that periodic reviews by the board of scientific counselors provided regarding strengths and weaknesses of DIR's laboratories and branches. Existing programs were analyzed, good ones were expanded and lesser ones discontinued. Our current major effort in structural biology, the much-expanded DNA repair mechanisms group, use of genetically modified rodents as sensitized reagents for carcinogen detection, and the National Center of Toxicogenomics, with state-of-the-art bioinformatics to study environmental influences on gene expression, are legacies to the institute about which Kenneth Olden can rightly be proud."

Olden's honors include appointment by President George H.W. Bush to membership on the national cancer advisory board; membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; the Calver Award from the American Public Health Association; the HHS Secretary's Distinguished Service Award; the President's Meritorious and Distinguished Executive Awards; and the American College of Toxicology's first Distinguished Service Award.

Olden and his wife, Dr. Sandra L. White, and daughter Heather live in Durham, N.C. He also has three grown children.

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