President Obama has nominated the acclaimed geneticist and former head of The Human Genome Project, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., as the new director of NIH. Dr. Collins will assume the new leadership of NIH pending his Congressional confirmation hearings, which are expected to proceed smoothly.
The announcement comes just one day after NIH released its guidelines governing human embryonic stem cell research.
As President Obama stated, "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 has been described as an "evangelical Christian who has defended the inherent compatibility of science and religious beliefs", and although Dr. Collins has a sterling reputation among scientists, reactions from the media are mixed, as critics point out that the religious views which Dr. Collins espouses may interfere with an impartial and objective scientific approach to directing NIH. In an article entitled "Obama Names an Evangelical to Lead the NIH", a U.S. News & World Report article states that "Obama this week picked a Bible-believing, loud, and proud evangelical Christian to head the National Institutes of Health." Any personal religious views to which Dr. Collins might ascribe have certainly not interfered with his scientific objectivity in the past however, as a number of media sources point out, among which is the Wall Street Journal which reported the news in an article the title of which simply read, "Obama Plans to Name Renowned Geneticist to Head NIH."
Dr. Collins earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1970, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale in 1974, and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977. He first distinguished himself at the University of Michigan where he gained recognition for his pioneering work in positional cloning, a type of genetic screening and gene identification technique. In 1993 he accepted an invitation to succeed Dr. James Watson (Nobel laureate and co-discoverer with Dr. Francis Crick of the helical structure of DNA) as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of 27 institutes within NIH, which he directed from 1993 to 2008. During this time Dr. Collins also became director of the Human Genome Project, an international research project which resulted in 2003 in the successful mapping of the genetic sequences of 3.1 billion chemical base pairs in the human DNA. Along with Craig Venter, founder and former president of Celera Genomics as well as the founder of The Institute for Genomic Research, Dr. Collins was awarded the "Biography of the Year" award in 2000 by the A&E Network, and U.S. News & World Report together with the Harvard Center for Public Leadership named both Collins and Venter "America’s Best Leaders" in 2005.
In 2006 Dr. Collins authored the book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", in which he describes scientific discoveries as an "opportunity to worship". Dr. Collins awknowledges that he has been highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, especially by the book "Mere Christianity" to which Collins attributes his conversion to Christianity at the age of 27. Currently Dr. Collins serves as president of The BioLogos Foundation, which he founded in 2009, the mission of which is to "contribute to the public voice that represents the harmony of science and faith."
Dr. Collins has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including election into the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This year the NIH will have $40 billion at its disposal for funding medical research, including that which is to be conducted on human embryonic stem cells.