Francis Collins, the longest-serving head of NIH, is stepping down

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National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins is stepping down by the end of the year.

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NIH Chief Francis Collins Awarded 2020 Templeton Prize

«There comes a time where an institution like NIH really benefits from new vision, new leadership,» he told the Post. «This was the right timing.»

He is described as apolitical and spiritual

Over the course of his long career, Collins has really been «apolitical,» Victor DiRita, the chairman of the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University, told NPR last year.

«He’s been a strong leader. He’s gotten the resources needed to make the NIH the envy of the world to lead in certain scientific areas, without question,» DiRita said. «He also is a very spiritual person. He’s not afraid or shy about showing all the aspects of his of his humanness. I think that’s really valuable. And it’s a special thing about Francis Collins.»

Collins supported Anthony Fauci, one of his NIH center directors and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, as he was attacked by then-President Trump, and dismissed calls for his ouster or demotion, saying the idea was «unthinkable.»

Before leading government research agencies, Collins started his career as a geneticist who used cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to help identify key genes involved in diseases like cystic fibrosis.

He headed the effort to sequence the human genetic code

In 1993, he became director of what was then called the National Center for Human Genome Research, which was in charge of a massive effort to fully sequence humanity’s genetic code.

Collins stood next to President Bill Clinton at the White House in June 2000 to announce that a working draft of the human genome had finally been completed. «It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God,» Collins said at the time. «What a profound responsibility it is to do this work.»

After becoming the head of NIH, Collins troubled some researchers by emphasizing science that’s directly related to developing new medical treatments, even creating a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

«Dr. Collins made a statement once that kind of raised the hair on the back of the necks of a lot of scientists by saying, you know, this is not the National Institute of Basic Sciences, it’s the National Institutes of Health,» recalled DiRita. «I think a lot of people were like, ‘Whoa, we do basic science, too.’ «

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said of Collins: «It takes an extraordinary person to tackle the biggest scientific challenges facing our nation — and under three presidents, amidst three distinctly different chapters of American history. Dr. Collins, master of scientific breakthroughs and scientific reason — from mapping the human genome to fighting the most devastating pandemic of a century — has routinely broken ground to save countless lives, while unleashing innovation to benefit humanity for generations to come.»

Tuesday’s statement said that Collins would continue to lead his research laboratory at the National Human Genome Research Institute, «which is pursuing genomics, epigenomics and single cell biology to understand the causes and means of prevention for type 2 diabetes. His lab also seeks to develop new genetic therapies for the most dramatic form of premature aging, Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome.»

  • Scientific research
  • federal funding
  • science
  • NIH
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Francis Collins

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