Director of National Institutes of Health Visits URMC

Oct. 10, 2016
Francis Collins Applauds Rochester Scientists, Says it’s an Exciting Time for Biomedical Research
NIH director Francis Collins addresses the URMC community


Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) visited the University of Rochester Medical Center on Friday, October 7 as part of the University’s annual reunion weekend. NIH is the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world and over the last five years URMC has received approximately $789 million in research funding from the organization.
Collins traveled to Rochester to deliver a positive message: it is an extremely exciting time for biomedical research. In a keynote address to faculty members, staff, students, trainees and alumni, he detailed several new NIH initiatives like the Cancer Moonshot and the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program. He highlighted the work of David C. Linehan, M.D., director of clinical operations at UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute and Chair of Surgery at URMC who is studying new immune therapies for pancreatic cancer, as well as Thomas O’Connor, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry and director of the Wynne Center for Family Research at URMC who is among a group of scientists studying prenatal inflammation and child health as part of ECHO.
“We are in a time of such amazing diversity of opportunity, with people working in fields that maybe weren’t even invented 20 years ago, making advances in basic, translational and clinical science and everything in between,” said Collins, a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project.
Turning scientific discoveries into new treatments for patients is priority for the NIH and Collins applauded URMC on its new $19 million grant to continue the “bench-to-bedside” research taking place at the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Collins cited translational research conducted by cardiologist Arthur J. Moss, M.D., which has led to new treatments for patients with Long QT syndrome (LQTS), and infectious disease expert John J. Treanor, M.D., which is helping scientists in pursuit of a universal flu vaccine.
After many lean years, Collins reported that the NIH budget is increasing and outlined several new funding initiatives, such as the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, which is helping Elaine L. Hill, Ph.D.,assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences study the impact of fracking on infant and child health.
“The real strength of biomedical research in the United States over all of these years has been the principal investigators, the students, the trainees, coming up with ideas, developing new hypotheses, figuring out how to test them, trying to be sure that we move forward the research enterprise to get rigorous answers to how life works and how disease happens,” said Collins. “I think the progress that’s going to happen in biomedical research in the next decade is mostly going to be made by individual investigators with their independent creative ideas pushing back the frontiers, coming up with new insights, and it’s your work that I’m here to cheer for and celebrate.”
Collins’ trip to the Medical Center included an intimate discussion with graduate students and junior researchers about the importance of communicating science to the public and policymakers, increasing diversity in biomedical research and mechanisms to support young scientists at the start of their careers. Members of the Center for RNA Biology highlighted their most promising work for Collins and Center director Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D. gave Collins a tour of her lab, where he met more trainees and junior researchers (admittedly, Collins’ favorite part of visits like these).
Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter helped bring Collins to Rochester and introduced him ahead of his keynote address.
The NIH director left the URMC audience on an encouraging note: “We continue to be the strongest biomedical research community in the world, by far, and we’re not about to let that slide, but we only get there because of you.”
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Collins tours the lab of Lynne E. Maquat