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First speech focuses on priorities, addressing concerns

On Aug. 17, 2009, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. was sworn in as the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Following the ceremony, he spoke to NIH employees and provided information on what he hopes to accomplish in his new role, as well as outlined some of the future challenges NIH will face. ACSM was encouraged by Dr. Collins’ comments, as he specifically identified prevention, physical activity and healthy lifestyles as top priorities, along with health disparities, research and global health. More

In his first speech as the Director of NIH, Dr. Collins outlined his top five priority areas:

1. Maintaining the importance of investigator-initiated research. Dr. Collins said that the creativity of the individual investigator is vital in the pursuit of knowledge and said that it is especially important to pursue all potential avenues of research to tackle diseases in a comprehensive way. He noted that NIH is beginning to do this in their attempt to learn more about autism and cancer and said that many other diseases, including diabetes and Parkinson’s, are also ready for such an approach.

2. Translating basic research to improve human health. Dr. Collins commented that NIH must be a catalyst for developing diagnostic tools and therapeutics, but stressed that support for vigorous basic science is crucial to producing discoveries that will benefit the public.

3. Putting science to work for the benefit of health care reform. Dr. Collins explained that NIH has been supporting comparative effectiveness research for many years and believes NIH should embrace supporting this kind of research because it is necessary to help inform the practice of medicine. He also said that he intends to focus on prevention-related studies and believes that funding behavioral research to determine how personal decisions are made is especially important. In addition, Dr. Collins said he intends to examine how research at NIH influences the cost of medical care and talked about the importance of assembling a team to accomplish this. Finally, he stated that health disparities must be a high priority for NIH.

4. Increasing focus on global health. Dr. Collins stated that it is important for NIH to expand its support for global health issues. He said NIH must go beyond AIDS and malaria and increase its efforts to work with countries to develop capacity;

5. Reinvigorating the biomedical research community. Dr. Collins explained that NIH must promote high quality training, ensure predictable and sustainable increases for NIH, and make sure that the peer review process rewards innovation and risk taking.

Dr. Collins also applauded the tenure of Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., who served as Acting NIH Director since November 2008 and will return to his role as Principal Deputy Director. Dr. Collins also reported that Larry Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who took on the role of Acting Deputy Director during the last nine months – and made particularly important contributions to the rapid NIH formulation and implementation of a plan to allocate funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – has agreed to continue in this important role, as he returns to a job he never left: the Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

Finally, Dr. Collins addressed many of the concerns that some in the scientific community have raised, such as:

  1. The concern that his support of big science programs would come at the expense of investigator-initiated research. During his address, Dr. Collins said that maintaining the creativity of individual investigators is paramount, and he encouraged people to look at how he supported National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) intramural investigators during the past 15 years.
  2. The concern that he would focus the majority of his energy on genetics-related issues. During his speech, Dr. Collins promised that he would be “everyone’s director” and represent all of NIH’s interests equally.
  3. The concern that religion would play a role in his decision making at NIH. During his talk, Dr. Collins stressed that he does not have a religious agenda and will be a director who is focused exclusively on science. He also said that he has resigned from “BioLogos,” a science-and-faith organization he founded.


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