Obama Intends to Nominate Francis Collins to Lead NIH

President Obama announced his intent to nominate Francis S. Collins, one of the nation's leading geneticists, as director of the National Institutes of Health just two days after the nation's premier medical research organization published new guidelines for human stem cell research.

"The National Institutes of Health stands as a model when it comes to science and research," Obama said in a statement Wednesday. "My administration is committed to promoting scientific integrity and pioneering scientific research and I am confident that Dr. Francis Collins will lead the NIH to achieve these goals."

As an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH serves as the steward of medical and behavioral research for the nation, providing leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the country by conducting and supporting research.

Most recently, the NIH published new guidelines for human stem cell research in response to an executive order signed by Obama in March that reversed the stem cell policy of former President Bush. Under Obama's policy, hundreds of new embryonic stem cell lines, once ineligible for federal funding under the Bush administration, will now be eligible - a move that anti-abortionists have decried.

Collins, an outspoken Christian and self-described theistic evolutionist, was present when the president signed the executive order. Though he has defended research on existing embryonic stem cells, Collins has expressed opposition to purposely creating them for research.

Should he be confirmed by the Senate to lead the NIH, Collins would be in charge of guiding the federal agency in reviewing and updating the stem cell guidelines "periodically, as appropriate," as directed by Obama's executive order.

Collins would also be faced with calls to boost spending on cancer research and free science from politics as well as financial conflicts of interest.

Knowing the challenges that lie ahead, Obama expressed his confidence in the renowned physician-geneticist, who is most noted for his leadership of the Human Genome Project.

"Dr. Collins is one of the top scientists in the world, and his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead," Obama remarked.

Aside from his lead role in the breakthrough unraveling of the human genetic code and his landmark discoveries of disease genes, Collins is known for his consistent emphasis on the importance of ethical and legal issues in genetics. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor given by the President – in November 2007.

Collins is also founder of the BiosLogos Foundation, which addresses the escalating culture war between science and faith in the United States.

As a Christian, Collins is a theistic evolutionist – someone who believes classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution.

His 2006 book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, spent 20 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and explained how he found harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews.

In a statement Thursday, the BioLogos Foundation voiced their support of Collins' expected nomination.

"Launching BioLogos with Francis Collins has been a great adventure," said Dr. Karl Giberson, who will take over Collins' duties together with Dr. Darrel Falk once Collins is confirmed. "We are sorry to lose him at the helm. But we are happy to see him move into such a significant role at the NIH."

Currently, the NIH is being led by acting director Raynard S. Kington, who filled in for Elias A. Zerhouni, former President Bush's pick in 2002, who stepped down at the end of October 2008.

Collins, 59, had stepped down as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute last summer after serving there for 15 years. The NHGRI is the NIH arm dedicated to advancing human health through genetic research.

Christian Post reporter Lawrence D. Jones contributed to this article.