James O. Woolliscroft, M.D. ANN ARBOR, MI. - Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., a former University of Michigan Medical School professor who led the Human Genome Project, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to head the federal National Institutes of Health.
Pending approval by Congress, he will direct the nation's leading biomedical research agency, which funds medical science at the NIH's 27 institutes and centers, and at universities nationwide. The U-M Medical School has the nation's seventh-largest NIH research funding total, at $301 million in federal fiscal year 2008.
Collins is a pioneer in genetic research, and did much of his genetic mapping work during his time in the UMMS Departments of Human Genetics and Internal Medicine. He was a member of the U-M faculty from 1984 to 2003.
It was during a leave of absence from U-M that Collins led the successful completion of the Human Genome Project
, even while retaining ties to Michigan and returning each year to help teach medical students about genetics. The 13-year genome effort - completed in 2003 - mapped and sequenced all human DNA and improved scientists' ability to access and analyze the data for further biological study.
"Francis is a stellar choice for this post, and will bring a broad understanding of science and society to the leadership of the NIH," says UMMS dean James O. Woolliscroft, M.D.
"We're proud to call him one of our own, and look forward to his leadership at this crucial moment for biomedical and health care research."
Collins became director of the National Center for Human Genome Research in 1993, and its successor, the National Human Genome Research Institute
, in 1997. He retired in August 2008 and now serves as a special volunteer at the institute.
While at U-M, Collins identified the gene for cystic fibrosis and discovered the genes for neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves) and Huntington's disease (a degenerative brain disorder). He also co-authored the definitive medical genetics text, Principles of Medical Genetics.
Collins' accomplishments have been recognized by numerous awards and honors, including election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, for his contributions to genetic research.
The U-M Medical School created the first human genetics departmentin the nation in 1956. It is chaired today by Sally Camper, Ph.D., the James V. Neel Collegiate Professor of Human Genetics. Faculty are pursuing many promising areas, including tailoring medical treatment to an individual's genetic makeup; better understanding of the interplay of genetics and environmental factors; and ‘lab-on-a-chip' technology that makes high-throughput, cost-effective analysis of genetic material possible.