New NIEHS leader looks ahead

Researchers at NIH's long-beleaguered National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are hopeful that the institute's new head, toxicologist linkurl:Linda Birnbaum;http://www.f1000biology.com/about/biography/3056654395292771, will be able to right the ship after the rocky tenure of ex-NIEHS director David Schwartz. linkurl:Chris Portier,;http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/orar/index.cfm associate director of NIEHS, said that there are key differences between Schwartz and Birnbaum. "

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

View full profile.


Learn about our editorial policies.

Dec 8, 2008
Researchers at NIH's long-beleaguered National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are hopeful that the institute's new head, toxicologist linkurl:Linda Birnbaum;http://www.f1000biology.com/about/biography/3056654395292771, will be able to right the ship after the rocky tenure of ex-NIEHS director David Schwartz. linkurl:Chris Portier,;http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/orar/index.cfm associate director of NIEHS, said that there are key differences between Schwartz and Birnbaum. "I'm much more optimistic that she's got management experience of a large group, which David [Schwartz} didn't have," he told __The Scientist__. "She's got governmental experience, which David didn't have. It will be a completely different person that steps into that office." Amid allegations of mismanagement -- including stocking his disproportionately large lab full of former Duke University colleagues -- Schwartz resigned from his post earlier this year. One of his most provocative moves was to suggest privatizing and cutting funding for linkurl:__Environmental Health Perspectives__,;http://www.ehponline.org/ NIEHS's open-access, peer-reviewed journal. The proposition raised hackles in Washington, DC and...
ist linkurl:Linda Birnbaum;http://www.f1000biology.com/about/biography/3056654395292771, will be able to right the ship after the rocky tenure of ex-NIEHS director David Schwartz. linkurl:Chris Portier,;http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/orar/index.cfm associate director of NIEHS, said that there are key differences between Schwartz and Birnbaum. "I'm much more optimistic that she's got management experience of a large group, which David [Schwartz} didn't have," he told __The Scientist__. "She's got governmental experience, which David didn't have. It will be a completely different person that steps into that office." Amid allegations of mismanagement -- including stocking his disproportionately large lab full of former Duke University colleagues -- Schwartz resigned from his post earlier this year. One of his most provocative moves was to suggest privatizing and cutting funding for linkurl:__Environmental Health Perspectives__,;http://www.ehponline.org/ NIEHS's open-access, peer-reviewed journal. The proposition raised hackles in Washington, DC and beyond, among members of the environmental health and science community. When asked about how she plans on correcting any damage that former NIEHS director David Schwartz may have done to the institute, Birnbaum demurred. "I don't focus on the past," she said. "I'm looking ahead." Birnbaum did say that she is in favor of keeping __EHP__ publically funded. "I've always been a strong supporter of __EHP__," she told __The Scientist__. "I feel very fortunate to have it as part of the NIEHS portfolio." Birnbaum, who formerly headed the EPA's Experimental Toxicology Division, will be taking over as the director of NIEHS in January. She said she will encourage increased interaction between basic and applied scientists, from bench researchers to epidemiologists and physicians, at the institute. "I'm someone who believes in the synergy that can come from different kinds of science," she said. Birnbaum also said she will focus on both the prevention and treatment of environmentally-mediated diseases and that she'll direct more attention to cutting edge technologies, such as biomarkers to track the early effects of asbestos exposure. "These are things that haven't been addressed a lot that offer us real opportunities," she said. Portier, who also studies systems biology at NIEHS, agreed that an integrative approach was essential to the success of the institute. "I agree 100% that we're going to have to do much better integrative science if we're going to address the challenges we're facing now," he said. "[Birnbaum's] really quite a perfect choice for the institute."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:NIEHS gets new leader;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55257/
[3rd December 2008]*linkurl:Schwartz resigns from NIEHS;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54296/
[11th February 2008]*linkurl:Environment Health Perspectives faces cuts;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/24245/
[3rd August 2006]

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?