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General News    H4'ed 4/25/10

New NIH Director Discusses Goals, Genomes and the "Nerd" Problem in Chicago

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Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) who hoped Francis S. Collins, the new director of the National Institutes of Health, might include some cell biology in his Saturday address were not disappointed.

Speaking at Northwestern's Lurie Medical Research Center, the former head of the Human Genome Project gave a slide show about "splice donor sequences" and a toxic protein responsible for Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome worthy of any found in a medical or science lecture hall.

Nor was Dr. Collins likely disappointed with the composition of the audience -- half graduate and postdoctoral students as UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, in her opening remarks, said he requested.

Collins addressed personnel from the three universities -- which have formed a research partnership called the Chicago Biomedical Consortium -- and members of the public for an hour and a half on Saturday on Northwestern's Chicago campus.

Tall and thin as, well, Obama, the 60-year-old came from behind the podium to discuss NIH's track record (US heart disease and disability are down; longevity is up), funding (84 percent of its budget goes to extramural grants including $1 billion to research in the Chicago area) and return on investment (the drop in US heart disease deaths cost each US taxpayer $3.70.)

Collins, known for being willing to "challenge current thinking," as Northwestern University President Morton Shapiro said in opening the event, presented an agenda for NIH that included translational technology and comparative effective research as well as community and global health initiatives.

He proposed a bigger research tent in which "wacky" scientific ideas receive support, public databases like the Genome project benefit everyone and science is not regarded by school children as "nerdy."

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by (more...)
 

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