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Schwartz Named NIEHS and NTP Director

On the Front Page...

Dr. David A. Schwartz has been named new director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. He will assume leadership of NIEHS and NTP in April 2005.

He is currently serving at Duke University as director of the pulmonary, allergy and critical care division and vice chair of research in the department of medicine. At Duke, Schwartz played a principal role in developing three NIEHS-funded research centers in environmental health sciences, environmental genomics and environmental asthma.


As a clinician, Schwartz was drawn to research because he wanted to help his patients understand the cause of their disease. "The first question a patient asks is, 'Why me?'" he said. "I wanted to help answer that question.

Dr. David A. Schwartz
"Environmental health sciences was the obvious place to focus my attention," Schwartz continues. "However, I quickly found that it's quite complex trying to understand the development of disease. While environmental exposures play a role in the etiology of disease, it's important to remember that people respond differently to environmental challenges. The unique response of an individual to an environmental exposure is dependent on many factors, including but not limited to genetics, age, co-morbid conditions and diet. For instance, my son developed asthma at an early age and I noticed that his symptoms were consistently exacerbated by moldy conditions. Not high exposures, but exposure that didn't bother most people in the same room."

Schwartz said he intends to encourage NIEHS research that focuses on the role of environmental exposures in the development of common diseases, uses environmental exposures to understand disease pathogenesis and determines how other factors, including genetics, contribute to the individual response to environmental toxins. Diseases of particular interest include cancers, neurodegener-ative diseases, lung diseases and generalized mechanisms of host defense.

"I became interested in lung disease because the lung is the ideal organ to investigate the interface between the host and the environment," said Schwartz. "The lung is constantly exposed to the environment and has developed a series of finely tuned defense mechanisms."

When investigating the link between human health and environmental exposure, Schwartz believes a broader range of factors like nutrition, medications, complex exposures and co-morbid diseases should be considered along with genetic susceptibility. "I look forward to identifying opportunities for collaboration with other NIH institutes," he said. "Working together, we'll be able to solve these important research problems much more quickly."

In addition to supporting basic research, Schwartz is committed to creating training opportunities by expanding programs for mentoring and career development. He hopes to attract "the best and brightest" mentors and trainees to the field of environmental health research while also increasing the visibility of NIEHS among the public, health care providers and health researchers.

"I want to continue the tradition established by NIEHS to be responsive to citizens who are concerned about particular exposures in their local areas," said Schwartz. NIEHS conducts town meetings regularly at locations throughout the country. The meetings provide an open forum for members of the public to speak about environmental health issues.

Finally, Schwartz said he wants to ensure that NIEHS is a healthy place to work that is supportive of diversity and family responsibilities. "I hope to foster a spirit of community at NIEHS that engages our employees to commit themselves to the larger mission of the institute."

"We are extremely fortunate to have David join us," said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who made the appointment. "Environmental health sciences are playing an increasingly critical role in our understanding of many diseases. His interdisciplinary approach, involving human and molecular genetics, the medical sciences, environmental genetics and genomics will help lead us to well-conceived strategies for preventing, diagnosing and treating disease."

Schwartz will replace Dr. Kenneth Olden, who last year announced he would step down as NIEHS director.

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