Person of the Week: Dr. Francis Collins, Director of National Institutes of Health

Our Person of the Week series is designed to inspire & encourage students to pursue a career in the myriad sectors within global public health. Public health is far reaching and incredibly expansive, providing the platform in which to improve the lives of local & national communities worldwide. As Dr. Seuss said, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose…” – ‘Oh, The Places You’ll Go!’-

Dr. Francis Collins – NIH Director- May 6

Francis Collins, MD, Ph.D., is the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At NIH, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the biggest supporter of biomedical research on the planet. This spans the entire spectrum from basic to advanced clinical research.

Dr. Collins is a physician and geneticist who is especially known for his major discoveries of disease genes and for his leadership in the international Human Genome Project. This work culminated in 2003 with the completion of a completed sequence of the human GNA instruction book. He also served as the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Before he was NIH director, he was the founder of the BioLogos Foundation. This is an organization that promotes discussion on the relationship between science and religion.


In 1993, Dr. Collins became Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, which eventually became known as the National Human Genome Research Institute, or NHGRI in 1997. As the director, he supervised the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium.

One of the major works at NHGRI during his work there was the creation of the haplotype map of the human genome. This ‘hap map’ project came up with a catalog of genetic variations, known as single nucleotide polymoprhisms, which is now used to discover genetic variations that are related to risk for various diseases.

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Dr. Collins also is well known for his very close attention to the issues of ethics and law in the field of genetics. He is a strong advocate for protecting the privacy of genetic data. He has served as a leader in the nation to outlaw gene-based discrimination in insurance. Dr. Collins also is dedicated to opening the world of genome research to benefit the public health of those living in developing countries.

His many awards include:

  • Election to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences

  • Kirby International Awards recipient in 1993

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007

  • National Medal of Science in 2008


Dr. Collins was raised on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He was home schooled and eventually attended a public high school. He aspired to be a chemist in high school and early college, and was not interested in biology.

He earned his BS in chemistry at the University of Virginia in 1970, and he earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Yale in 1974.

When he was at Yale, he took a class in biochemistry which got him interested in the topic. He then changed fields and entered medical school at the University of North Carolina in 1975.

What He Has Been Up To

Under the leadership of Dr. Collins, NIH has been conducting research into the brain and cocaine addiction. An experiment was conducted in April 2013 where NIH and researchers from the University of California in San Francisco shot pulses of laser light into the brains of rats addicted to cocaine. The idea was to block their desire for the drug.

The rats in the experiment were engineered to carry neurons activated by light within an area of their prefrontal cortex. The rats then were fitted with optic fibers to transmit the pulses of laser.

Where He Has Been Quoted

‘The researchers studied rats that were chronically addicted to cocaine. Their need for the drug was so strong that they would ignore electric shocks in order to get a hit. But when those same rats received the laser light pulses, the light activated the prelimbic cortex, causing electrical activity in that brain region to surge. Remarkably, the rat’s fear of the foot shock reappeared, and assisted in deterring cocaine seeking. On the other hand, when the team used a different optogenetics technique to reduce activity in this same brain region, rats that were previously deterred by the foot shocks became chronic cocaine junkies.’, April 23, 2013 – ‘NIH Shines a Bright Light on Cocaine Addiction’

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Tweet Alert

Dr. Collins is an active Twitter user. Some of his latest tweets:




For More Information

For more information about Dr. Collins, please visit the NIH Director Web page. Thank you for your tremeondous work on the behalf of public health, Dr. Collins.

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