Directors Depart from NIMH, NIDA and NIAAA
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Several leadership changes will result in new directors for three NIH institutes: the National Institute of Mental Health, whose director is decamping for Harvard; the National Institute on Drug Abuse, whose director has accepted the top job at the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, whose director is retiring as the only one who ever led NIAAA.
Dr. Steven Hyman, director of NIMH for the past 5 ½ years, will return to Harvard University as provost. He will help shape academics and policy at the university, where he once was professor and director of research for the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. He will restart at Harvard on Dec. 10.
He says his new position at the world's largest general scientific organization will give him the opportunity to bring science closer to the American public.
"I am proud to have been involved in bettering prevention and treatment practice and influencing public understanding of drug abuse and addiction and resultant policies," he said. "I look forward to expanding the public's appreciation for all aspects of science."
After 15 years at the helm of NIAAA, Gordis is retiring as director. He arrived in 1986 when the institute was a component of the former Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. He supervised the institute's transformation into a comprehensive research institute and its integration into NIH, and sought throughout his tenure to ensure that the institute's research programs reflected the highest standards in the biomedical and behavioral research communities.
Hyman came to NIMH in April 1996. He is credited with initiating major changes in the institute's research portfolio, now considered state of the art in the scientific and mental health communities.
"My goal for NIMH was to make sure that it joined the mainstream of biomedical and behavioral research," Hyman said. "Working with a very talented staff, I believe we have become leaders in such critically important areas as the genetics of complex disorders, translation of basic neuroscience and behavioral science into clinical research, and conducting clinical trials that are increasing the relevance of research to real patients in real world settings."
Hyman said he is also proud of the leadership role NIMH has played in protecting vulnerable individuals who have volunteered for clinical research, advancing research and treatment of mental disorders in children, and increasing the part played by consumers, families, and front-line providers in priority-setting and activities of the institute.
During his tenure, Hyman also directed an NIH research program in molecular neurobiology to study how the neurotransmitter dopamine regulates gene expression in neurons in the brain. He returns to Harvard where he studied, taught and directed several programs including the Interfaculty Initiative on Mind/Brain/Behavior before coming to NIMH.
While at the NIDA helm, Leshner focused its resources on reducing the health and social consequences of drug abuse and addiction throughout the United States. His leadership led to advances in the understanding of the effects of addictive substances on the brain and advancements in medications development to treat addictions.
He increased public awareness of addiction as a brain disease and was instrumental in organizing town meetings throughout the U.S. to educate the public about the latest research.
Other public outreach efforts included briefings with the entertainment industry and creation of the PRISM Awards for accurate depiction of drugs, alcohol and tobacco in movies and television products, development of science education materials for use in classrooms, and a public service announcement campaign entitled "Keep Your Body Healthy, Don't Use Drugs."
Earlier, he was on the faculty at Bucknell University and held appointments at the Postgraduate Medical School in Budapest, Hungary, the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center and as a Fulbright scholar in Israel.
When Gordis entered the alcohol field, it lacked the tradition of science that is accepted and expected in other areas of medicine. "There were many slogans," he says, "but little science. We did the best we could, but while some of our patients got better, many did not." It is this appreciation of the need for science in understanding alcohol problems that brought him to NIAAA.
Gordis' commitment to science as a means of understanding both the biological and behavioral antecedents of alcohol problems led to many major scientific achievements. The National Longitudinal Epidemiological Survey, a ground-breaking survey to measure drinking levels and patterns of consumption, also, for the first time, assessed alcohol use disorders based on widely used diagnostic criteria.
In genetic science, the Collaborative Project on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), now in its 14th year, is a multi-site study using state-of-the-art tools to study families with a strong history of alcohol use problems. COGA investigators have identified several "hot spots," or locations on chromosomes where the genes for alcoholism may be.
Most recently, Gordis initiated a major new research program to evaluate the effects of combination pharmaco- and behavioral therapy for alcohol problems, and a basic science initiative integrating various neuroscience disciplines in the study of alcoholism. According to Gordis, "the history of medicine is replete with examples of how studying the abnormal teaches us about the normal. I believe that we are going to learn a lot about human genetics, brain circuitry and many other facets of human health by studying alcohol. This will improve, no doubt, medicine not just for alcoholics but for all."
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