Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 1:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time
Media Contact: Kara Flynn, 202.257.8424, firstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKVILLE, MD – The following statement is attributable to ASHG President Gail Jarvik, MD, PhD, regarding the announcement that Francis Collins, MD, PhD, will step down as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Collins, a physician and geneticist, has served as director since April 2011. He will continue serving until the end of the year and maintain his scientific laboratory. Prior to his current position, Dr. Collins was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), and previously the Human Genome Project. During his tenure, the Institute launched flagship research programs to drive down the cost of DNA sequencing, to understand the functional elements in the human genome, and to elucidate how genomic variation affects human health and disease. Before joining NIH, Dr. Collins had already contributed to human genetics by helping to identify the gene for cystic fibrosis in 1989, the gene for neurofibromatosis in 1990, and the gene for Huntington’s disease in 1993.
“Over nearly three decades at the NIH, Francis Collins has made countless, lasting contributions to human genetics and genomics and to all biomedical research, from leading the Human Genome Project to completion and the launch of the All of Us Research Program to, most recently, leading an unprecedented rapid response by the NIH to the COVID-19 pandemic, including record-speed therapeutics enabled by genetics knowledge.
The field of genomics has enjoyed unprecedented growth over those last thirty years and genome sequencing now is routinely used to answer research questions and to guide patient care. As director, Francis has been at the forefront at every stage serving as a singular, global leader who saw the transformative importance of genetics and genomics research and its potential to improve human health. As important, he was a powerful advocate and accessible ‘doctor in residence’ in any public or policy forum, ready to explain and encourage support for genetics and science overall. He has championed NIH’s successes and grappled with its important shortcomings, most recently the need to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion across the NIH.
Within the global scientific enterprise, Francis has been a biologic Johnny Appleseed, pioneering and leading the Human Genome Project to success and then promoting this new knowledge throughout biomedical research. This has led to profound discoveries and advances that today are restoring sight, curing cancer, teasing out the underpinnings of mental illness, treating early childhood developmental disorders, and investigating debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, as well as chronic conditions like heart and lung disease. Today, genomics sits at the forefront of our biomedical research armament and is powering the U.S. economy and opening new areas for further research.
We are especially grateful and honored that Francis has called ASHG home since he was a postdoctoral fellow. ASHG has always warmly embraced him as our colleague, and the Society recognized his many achievements by awarding him the ASHG McKusick Leadership Award in 2012. We are heartened, and not surprised, that Francis will stay on this life-long journey, returning to his lab at NHGRI. We look forward to his continued scientific and community leadership, and to working with him, NHGRI and NIH to ensure people everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research.”
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About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)
Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics and Human Genetics and Genomics Advances; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit: http://www.ashg.org.