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Vol. LXI, No. 15
July 24, 2009

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Collins Nominated as NIH Director

On the front page...

President Obama on July 8 announced his intention to nominate Dr. Francis Collins as the 16th director of NIH. Collins left NIH a year ago as director, since 1993, of the National Human Genome Research Institute. If confirmed by the Senate, he would become the first former institute director in 34 years to rise to the top position at the agency.

In his statement, Obama said, “The National Institutes of Health stands as a model when it comes to science and research. My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals. Dr. Collins is one of the top scientists in the world, and his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.”


  Dr. Francis Collins  
  Dr. Francis Collins  

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius added, “I hope the Senate acts quickly to confirm his nomination. I want to thank Dr. Raynard Kington for his leadership as acting director at NIH, and I also want to recognize the groundbreaking work that the scientists and staff at NIH do every day. From the new stem cell guidelines to the Recovery Act, this is truly an exciting time for NIH and for science in this country.”

Collins is best known for landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of what he called “the book of life”—a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. His own research laboratory has discovered a number of important genes, including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome and, most recently, genes for adult onset (type 2) diabetes and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome.

Collins, 59, has a longstanding interest in the interface between science and faith and has written about it in The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006), which made the New York Times bestseller list. He just finished a new book on personalized medicine, The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (HarperCollins, to be published in early 2010).
Collins sings and plays guitar at The Directors performance in honor of outgoing NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni last Oct. 30.
Collins sings and plays guitar at The Directors performance in honor of outgoing NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni last Oct. 30.

A native of Staunton, Va., where he was home-schooled as a child, Collins received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. with honors from the University of North Carolina.

Prior to coming to NIH in 1993, he spent 9 years on the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he was an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007.

On campus he is recognized as an approachable, affable scientist who makes no secret of his love of guitar playing, singing and motorcycle riding. He helped found The NIH Directors impromptu rock band, which plays at important campus events, and composes event-specific music for the group.

At a going-away ceremony last summer in Natcher Auditorium, Collins was presented with a custom-made Huss & Dalton (luthiers based in his native Staunton) acoustic guitar whose fretboard was inlayed with a DNA helix. If he is confirmed, employees will no doubt get to hear that guitar in concert.

The only other former institute director to become NIH director was Dr. Donald S. Fredrickson, who had been NHLBI director from 1966 to 1968 before being named NIH director in 1975. NIHRecord Icon

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