Who is Francis S. Collins - US Director of the National Institutes of Health: Biography, Life, Career

Francis-S.Collins-Director-of-the-National-Institutes-of-Health

Photo: Nih.gov

Who is Francis S. Collins?

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., will continue in his role as Director of the National Institutes of Health. He was appointed the 16th Director of the NIH by President Barack Obama, confirmed by the Senate, and sworn in on August 17, 2009. On June 6, 2017, President Donald Trump selected Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. Collins oversees the world’s largest supporter of biomedical research, spanning basic to clinical research. He plays a pivotal role in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Buildbackbetter regarded.

Early life

Francis S. Collins grew up on a small farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where he served as a farmhand and was home-schooled until the sixth grade. Collins’ father was a musician, and the farm became the center of a thriving arts community, visited by the likes of Bob Dylan, who celebrated his 18th birthday at the farmhouse.

Who is Francis S. Collins - US Director of the National Institutes of Health: Biography, Life, Career
Photo: Achievement.org

Collins himself has a number of unconventional hobbies. He plays in a folk-rock band, called “The Directors,” that is comprised of a group of scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and can be seen driving his red Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the streets of Bethesda, Md.

Collins received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia, and earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University in 1974, before switching to the field of biochemistry and completing his medical degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The “chromosome jumping” method he honed as a young researcher was used to speed up the process of identifying genes for disorders like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease, Nsf.gov noted.

Achievements

Who is Francis S. Collins - Biden's pick for Director of the National Institutes of Health
Screenshot from ScienceMag. Created by N. DESAI/SCIENCE

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. was appointed the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. He was sworn in on August 17, 2009. On June 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his selection of Dr. Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. In this role, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Before coming to NIH, Dr. Collins was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Michigan. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. In 2020, he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (UK) and was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity, Nih.gov listed.

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COLLINS'S LEGACY

His legacy also includes three big biology projects announced by Obama, starting in 2013 with the 10-year Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Neuroscientists conceived of the project, which develops tools to probe how neural circuits control thoughts and movement. So far, its fruits include a brain cell census and a device that converts brain activity into speech, according to ScienceMag.

"BRAIN seized the moment extremely well" by bringing together scientists from various disciplines to harness new approaches, says neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. "The field has become even more complex and exciting."

The Cancer Moonshot, launched in 2016 at the behest of then–Vice President Joe Biden after his son Beau died from brain cancer, also emphasizes large collaborations and big data. Collins's signature project, however, is the 2015 Precision Medicine Initiative that led to All of Us, an effort to amass a trove of data on the genomic basis of disease by collecting health records and DNA sequences from 1 million volunteers.

"I am totally over-the-moon excited about All of Us and the transformation that it's going to create as a platform for figuring out how do people stay healthy and how do you manage chronic illness when it happens," says Collins, who first proposed the project in 2004 as head of the genome institute. Zerhouni, who vetoed that proposal because of costs, says it's unclear whether All of Us, which is pooling disparate health records and could see a high dropout rate, will measure up to similar projects run by U.S. health providers and the United Kingdom's national health system. All of Us has so far enrolled more than 180,000 participants, and NIH says it is on schedule.

Although some scientists grumble that Collins prioritizes such projects over investigator-initiated grants, the criticism has subsided as the NIH budget has improved. The numbers were bleak in the first years of Collins's leadership. In 2011, after years of flat budgets, NIH was funding less than one in five of the grant applications it received, a record low. Two years later, as part of a governmentwide retrenchment, the agency's budget fell by 5%. But in 2016, Congress began to ease tight overall spending caps. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress that year, created a $4.8 billion fund over 10 years for Obama's three science initiatives. And since Trump's election, Collins has helped persuade Congress to reverse repeated presidential proposals to slash NIH's budget. In June, the House of Representatives voted to give NIH its fifth consecutive $2 billion raise, which would bring its budget to $41 billion in 2020.

Collins has been "able to gain and maintain the support of Congress," says biologist Keith Yamamoto of UC San Francisco. Adds Kathy Hudson, a consultant in Washington, D.C., who was Collins's policy chief until late 2016: "He has managed to cultivate a huge number of very important friends on [Capitol] Hill, and I think that has to do with personal interactions."

Private life

Who is Francis S. Collins - US Director of the National Institutes of Health: Biography, Life, Career
Photo: Jci.com

Collins married Mary Lynn Harman in his junior year at the Virginia. Collins later divorced Harman and married Diane Baker, a genetic counselor.

Biden's pick for Director of the National Institutes of Health

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will keep Dr. Francis Collins as head of the National Institutes of Health, his transition team said in a press release on Friday. First appointed as NIH director by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, Collins will stay at the helm of America's premier health policy research agency as COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. near 400,000, according to Reuters.

Who is Francis S. Collins - US Director of the National Institutes of Health: Biography, Life, Career
Photo: Fortune.com

The president-elect announced that Dr. Francis Collins will continue in his role as Director of the National Institutes of Health. The president-elect also wrote a letter to Dr. Eric Lander, the Presidential Science Advisor-designate and nominee for Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, tasking him to work broadly and transparently with the diverse scientific leadership of American society and make recommendations on how the Biden-Harris administration can harness the full power of science and technology on behalf of the American people. As a part of this announcement, the president-elect is elevating the role of the Presidential Science Advisor to the Cabinet level for the first time. President-elect Joe Biden said,

“Science will always be at the forefront of my administration — and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth. Their trusted guidance will be essential as we come together to end this pandemic, bring our economy back, and pursue new breakthroughs to improve the quality of life of all Americans. Their insights will help America chart a brighter future, and I am grateful they answered the call to serve.”, Buildbackbetter reported.

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