Thursday, July 16, 2009

UNC Alumnus Dr. Francis Collins Nominated to Head the National Institutes of Health

Dr. Francis S. Collins, a 1977 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, was nominated on July 8, 2009 by President Barack Obama to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The White House press release is available online. Collins is a renowned physician and geneticist, who led the Human Genome Project while serving as Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993 to 2008.

On June 26, 2000, President Bill Clinton presided over a ceremony at which Dr. Collins and Dr. Craig Venter, the founder of Celera Genomics, a commercial concern that led a parallel gene-mapping effort, announced a draft of the human genome.

The NIH is comprised of 27 institutes and centers and is the primary federal agency supporting medical research. With an annual budget approaching $30 billion, the NIH funds almost 50,000 competitive grant projects led by over 325,000 researchers in its own laboratories and across the United States and the world.

The NIH traces its origins back to the one-room Hygienic Laboratory established by Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun in 1887 in the Marine Hospital on Staten Island, New York. Dr. Kinyoun had trained under the great German bacteriologist Robert Koch, and used his Zeiss microscope to identify the cholera bacillus cultivated from patients, a technique which allowed the confirmation of clinical diagnoses.

Dr. Milton Rosenau served as the second director of the Hygienic Laboratory from 1899 to 1909, when he joined Harvard Medical School. In 1936, Rosenau became Director of the Division of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, and in 1939 he became Dean of UNC's School of Public Health. More information on Dr. Rosenau is available in an online exhibition at the UNC Health Sciences Library. Also available online are a finding aid to his papers and a research guide to public health at UNC.

For more information on the history of the NIH, see the following sections of the NIH web site:

Directors -- Legislative Chronology -- Chronology of Events -- Photo Gallery -- Office of NIH History -- Oral Histories -- Archives -- Online Exhibits -- Stetten Museum of Medical Research -- National Library of Medicine.

Also of interest is the Office of the Public Health Service Historian.

Pictured below is a Public Health Service laboratory with microscopes and glassware, circa 1899 (top). Dr. Ida A. Bengston is also pictured; a bacteriologist, she became in 1916 the first woman to be hired for the professional staff at the Public Health Service Hygienic Laboratory. Dr. Bengston researched the development of vaccines for spotted fever. Both images are from the NIH Photo Gallery.

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