United States President Barack Obama has named genome project leader Dr Francis S Collins as head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The National Institutes of Health, which is a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency responsible for conducting and supporting medical research. It was Dr Collins, 59, the geneticist, who discovered the causes of half a dozen diseases and supervised the US government’s efforts to map the human genome.
As the chief of the NIH, Dr Collins will oversee 27 institutes and an annual budget of about $30 billion for biological and medical research.
In 2006, Dr Collins published the famous book titled The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, in which he presented scientific evidence for a belief in God.
The appointment of Dr Francis Collins as head of the NIH, which has been widely welcomed, will make him one of the most powerful and influential scientists not only in the United States but also worldwide.
It was in 1989 that Dr Collins first attained fame when he and his colleagues at the University of Michigan announced that they had found the defective gene that causes cystic fibrosis. The team developed a technique – known as ‘positional cloning’ – that allowed researchers to scan large segments of the human genome in order to look for disease-causing genes even when they did not know the function of the genes in question.
Using that technique, Dr Collins and team identified the genes responsible for Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (a tumor of the parathyroid and pituitary glands), and the M4 type of adult acute leukemia.
In 1993, Dr Collins took over as the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and supervised the effort to sequence the human genome – a collection of over 3 billion bases of DNA that comprise the human blueprint.