Francis Collins leaves NHGRI

The director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), linkurl:Francis Collins,;http://www.genome.gov/10000779 announced today (May 28) that he will step down from his position on August 1. Collins linkurl:started;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/16074/ as NHGRI director in 1993 and led the institute through the linkurl:Human Genome Project,;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20030415/03/ which concluded in 2003. linkurl:Robert Cook-Deegan,;http://www.genome.duk

May 28, 2008
Bob Grant
The director of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), linkurl:Francis Collins,;http://www.genome.gov/10000779 announced today (May 28) that he will step down from his position on August 1. Collins linkurl:started;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/16074/ as NHGRI director in 1993 and led the institute through the linkurl:Human Genome Project,;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/20030415/03/ which concluded in 2003. linkurl:Robert Cook-Deegan,;http://www.genome.duke.edu/people/faculty/cookdeegan/ director of Duke University's Center for Genome Ethics, Law & Policy at the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, said that Collins was an ideal leader to pilot NHGRI through the Human Genome Project at a time when genomics was a strange, new idea. "It was very clear that he could explain the science to a lay audience in a way that they could understand the importance of it," said Cook-Deegan, who chronicled the start of the Human Genome Project in his 1996 book, linkurl:__Gene Wars: Science, Politics, and the Human Genome.__;http://www.amazon.com/Gene-Wars-Science-Politics-Genome/dp/0393313999 Harvard geneticist and collaborator on the Human Genome Project, linkurl:George Church,;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54596/ said that Collins was instrumental in guiding the project through the private vs. public competition that arose around sequencing the human genome. "He did what he felt was appropriate and what the community considered appropriate," Church said. Prior to joining NHGRI, Collins was a physician and researcher in North Carolina and Michigan. As a scientist, Collins was considered a gene hunter and coined the term linkurl:"positional cloning";http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15215/ to describe his method for rooting out the genetic roots of disease. Using this approach, Collins discovered gene for cystic fibrosis, the genes for Huntington's disease, and neurofibromatosis, among other diseases. Cook-Deegan also said that Collins was one of the few people who could have adequately replaced linkurl:James Watson,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54362/ who directed the National Center for Human Genome Research - which evolved into NHGRI - from 1989 to 1992. NHGRI's deputy director, pediatric geneticist linkurl:Alan Guttmacher,;http://www.genome.gov/10005495 will assume acting directorship of the institute upon Collins' departure. According to NIH, a search for a permanent director to replace Collins will begin shortly. Church said that replacing Collins will be a daunting task. "Even though he's irreplaceable in some sense, there are plenty of genome leaders who are of his caliber." Church said that in his opinion linkurl:Richard Gibbs,;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/home/25318/ linkurl:Eric Lander,;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/14635/ linkurl:Elaine Mardis,;http://dbbs.wustl.edu/DBBS/website.nsf/RIB/3C82437F8BA585A686256D4E005B2D60 or linkurl:Richard Wilson;http://genome.wustl.edu/Bio/WilsonBIO.cgi would make good NHGRI heads. According to Cook-Deegan, Collins would be well suited to become the head of a university or other academic institution upon his departure from NHGRI in August. "I think it's been a great run," he said. "I sure hope there's some big opportunity for him looming out there." In an NIH press release issued today, Collins said: "My decision was driven by a desire for an interval of time dedicated to writing, reflection and exploration of other professional opportunities in the public or private sectors. The demands and responsibilities of directing an NIH institute do not allow the time commitment necessary for this." Collins continued, "In addition, I may need greater latitude than my current position allows to pursue other potential positions of service without encountering any possible conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived." Collins will remain a "special volunteer" at NHGRI and will remain involved in his lab at the institute, which investigates the genetics behind diseases such as diabetes and linkurl:Hutchinson-Gilford progeria.;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23290/