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Vol. LX, No. 17
August 22, 2008

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‘Scientific Leader…Leader in Society’
NIH Pays Tribute to NHGRI Director Collins

On the front page...

Music and laughter rang out from Natcher auditorium recently as NIH gathered to honor Dr. Francis Collins, who officially stepped down as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute on Aug. 1.

Since assuming the helm of NHGRI in 1993, the physician-geneticist has become internationally recognized for his leadership of the Human Genome Project and the subsequent launch of many scientific endeavors to understand the human genome sequence and improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. Collins also supported research into the ethical, legal and social issues related to genomics research and strongly advocated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which was recently signed into law. After NIH, Collins will explore writing and other professional opportunities. He also plans to continue working closely with his intramural laboratory as an unpaid special volunteer a few days each week.


  NHGRI director Dr. Francis Collins (l) accepts distinguished alumnus award from NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.  
  NHGRI director Dr. Francis Collins (l) accepts distinguished alumnus award from NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.  

The celebration brought together employees from across the agency, as well as family, friends, patient advocates and former and current members of Congress. While many came to recognize his legacy to science, they were also there to celebrate and share the personal experiences they’d had with Collins over the years. Often mentioned were his renowned ability to communicate science to the average person; his gift for bringing together impressive groups of researchers to tackle large and complex scientific projects; and his capacity for listening to and considering the ideas of others.

NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni presented Collins a “Distinguished NIH Alumnus” award, a miniature version of a sculpture on view in the Clinical Center by Azriel Awret called “Healing Waters.” “Francis really has exemplified what I think the modern scientist should be—not only a scientific leader, but also a leader in society, a leader for the public’s interest,” Zerhouni said.
Chronic stress increases proinflammatory cytokines, says OSU’s Kiecolt-Glaser. Former NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus (r) congratulates Collins at his send-off.

Above, l: Those were the days—The Directors rock band includes (from l) Dr. John Tisdale, Dr. Stephen Katz, Collins and Dr. Elias Zerhouni.

Above, r: Former NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus (r) congratulates Collins at his send-off.

Other speakers included former NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus, current president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel; NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel; former Congressman John Porter, who serves as vice chair of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health; and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).

Former Congressman John Porter (r) wishes Collins well.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) sent a video message, which contained a moving description of Collins. “I have never come across a researcher more optimistic about how the fruits of research can ease illness, disease and suffering,” Harkins said. “In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never ended a conversation with him without feeling smarter and more hopeful for the future.”

In keeping with Collins’s love of music and laughter, the event included a rare performance by The Directors, a rock band that includes NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz (guitar); Zerhouni (keyboards); NCI’s Dr. Steve Libutti (drums); NIAMS’s Dr. John O’Shea (guitar, mandolin); and NHLBI’s Dr. John Tisdale (bass guitar). They dedicated two “original” compositions to Collins. The first, sung to the tune of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, featured the appropriate chorus: “Taking a break away from NIH-a-ville.” The other song was set to the Stevie Wonder classic, I Just Called to Say I Love You, but the lyrics had been changed to “We’re Just Here to Show We Love You.” For a grand finale, Collins, known as the “singing geneticist,” grabbed his guitar and joined the band to sing lead vocals on Mary Hopkins’s 1960’s hit Those Were the Days.

Reflecting upon his 15 years at NIH, Collins said, “I will say what an amazing ride it has been to be part of an adventure, an adventure into ourselves, to understand our own instruction book…to chart a course towards a change in medicine for the better. For me, as a scientist and a physician, there could never have been a more exciting opportunity than this has been, and it has been only possible because of the amazing people I’ve had the chance to work with...My heart is full of gratitude on this remarkable day.”

A video of the event is available on the NHGRI web site at NIHRecord Icon

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