KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Nominates Human Genome Veteran To Lead NIH

Dr. Francis S. Collins, the Yale-educated, guitar-strumming physician and geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, was nominated Wednesday to head the National Institutes of Health, the New York Times reports. "Dr. Collins's selection, which had been rumored for weeks, was praised by top scientists and research advocacy organizations for whom the health institute is a crucial patron," the Times reports. He is expected to sail through Senate confirmation.

Collins has, however, earned skepticism in addition to praise. Some in the scientific community object to his religiousness and see his work as a kind of evangelism: "He wrote a book called 'The Language of God,' and he has given many talks and interviews in which he described his conversion to Christianity as a 27-year-old medical student."

Another criticism is that, while managing the Human Genome Project, he over-inflated expectations, and then delivered little return – in terms of practical medical breakthroughs – on the massive investment when unexpected "scientific hurdles" emerged (Harris, 7/8).

However, science continues to pursue personalized medicine based on genomics. "[T]he true power of genetics, he told a meeting of scientists in Washington last month, has yet to be realized as researchers eventually learn enough to provide customized predictions of which diseases really threaten an individual, and personalized care to respond," The Associated Press/Wall Street Journal report. "His groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease," President Obama said when announcing the nomination (7/8).

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