Collins GRD ’74 confirmed as NIH director

The Senate unanimously confirmed Francis Collins GRD ’74 as the next director of the National Institutes of Health on Aug. 7, less than a month after President Barack Obama nominated him for the post.

“Dr. Collins will be an outstanding leader. Today is an exciting day for NIH and for science in this country,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement announcing the confirmation.

As director of the NIH, the 59-year-old Collins, whom President Barack Obama called “one of the top scientists in the world” when he announced his nomination, will supervise the 27 institutes and centers that make up the NIH and will oversee the allocation of almost $40 billion in federal research funding.

“My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals,” Obama said.

A physician and geneticist, Collins is no stranger to the NIH. He is best known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project, which completed documenting the human genome under budget and ahead of schedule in April 2003. He also served as the director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993 to 2008.

The NIH is the primary source of the medical research grants that Yale receives. About 50 percent of the Yale School of Medicine’s budget comes from research grants, the majority of which come from the NIH, according to medical school officials.

In an interview, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said Obama would be wise to tap Collins, whose nomination has been rumored for weeks.

“He is an excellent administrator and superb scientist,” he said. “He would be terrific.”

At Yale, Collins studied physical chemistry as a doctoral student and returned to the University in 1981 as a researcher, working as a fellow in human genetics and pediatrics at the School of Medicine from 1981 to 1984.

President George W. Bush ’68 awarded Collins the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, in 2007 for his work as director of the Human Genome Institute.

But Collins is not known solely for his scientific aptitude and administrative prowess. He is also an intensely spiritual man who has referred to the genetic code as “the book of human life.” His 2007 book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” was a national bestseller.

In October, Collins spoke in Yale’s Battell Chapel on the conflict between spirituality and science.

“I find it deeply disturbing that so many shrill voices in our world are arguing that science has rendered God unnecessary,” he said.

Collins’ next book, “The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine,” will be published in 2010.

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