Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D
Former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute
Francis S. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins left the program on Aug. 1, 2008, to pursue writing projects.
At NIH, Dr. Collins oversaw the Human Genome Project, the multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, international effort to map and sequence the 3 billion letters in the human DNA instruction book. Under his leadership, the Project attained historic milestones while consistently running ahead of schedule and under budget. Dr. Collins and his team finished the sequence in April 2003, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s seminal publication describing the double helix structure of DNA.
Dr. Collins has frequently asserted that exploration of the genome is really just beginning. Building upon the foundation laid by the Human Genome Project, researchers worldwide are collaborating on projects using genomic tools and technologies to expand understanding of human biology and combat human disease. Following the precedent set by the Human Genome Project, these projects are committed to making their data rapidly and freely available.
Dr. Collins rose to the top tier of medical and scientific research from his childhood on a small farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1970, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University in 1974, and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina in 1977. After his residency, Dr. Collins held several academic and research positions and made a series of breakthrough discoveries in genetics. His team, together with collaborators, isolated the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1, and the M4 type of adult acute leukemia.
Joining NIH in 1993, Dr. Collins continued what he has called “an adventure that beats going to the moon or splitting the atom.” In 2003, he led a team that identified the genetic basis of Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare disorder that causes a dramatic form of premature aging. Besides opening the door to possible treatment strategies for progeria, the discovery may provide insights into the process of normal human aging.
Dr. Collins and his colleagues also published a landmark study in the journal Science on genetic variants associated with type 2 diabetes.
Known for his scrupulous attention to ethical and legal issues in genetics, Dr. Collins has been a strong advocate for protecting the privacy of genetic information. He has served as a national leader in efforts to prohibit gene-based insurance discrimination.
His accomplishments have been recognized by numerous awards and honors, including Dr. Collins’ election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and this year, receiving AARP’s highest honor, the Andrus Award.
NBC News Special Correspondent
Although in 2004, Tom Brokaw (born Feb. 6, 1940) retired after 21 years as the venerable anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News”, he continues to report and produce long-form documentaries and provides expertise on breaking news. Recently he also became interim moderator of “Meet the Press” after the death of long-term host Tim Russert.