TGen chief’s longtime colleague named to head NIH

July 20, 2009

By hammersmith

It never hurts to have a well-placed friend. And so much the better if that well-placed friend possesses “inherent brilliance.”

That’s the characteristic that Jeffrey Trent, president and research director for Arizona’s Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), applied to his former colleague, Francis Collins, in the Grand Rapids Press. President Barack Obama has nominated Dr. Collins, formerly head of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), to serve as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“He could come into this position at a time when there is an opportunity to move away from one-size-fits-all medicine,” Dr. Trent said in the Arizona Republic. “I can’t think of anyone on the planet who is more useful to that process of personalizing medicine than Francis Collins.”

Dr. Trent built TGen, since 2002 a cornerstone of the downtown Phoenix Biomedical Campus, on the belief that the future of health care belongs to personalized medicine, where patients receive treatments tailored to their individual characteristics. His approach was honed during his decade-long collaboration with Dr. Collins on the NHGRI’s core research program, the Human Genome Project.

Frances CollinsIn 1990, Dr. Collins helped to recruit Dr. Trent to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. At that time, Dr. Trent was an associate professor at the University of Arizona and a rising star at the Arizona Cancer Center. Dr. Collins had recently achieved renown for his laboratory’s discovery of a gene implicated in cystic fibrosis.

After Dr. Collins was appointed to oversee the NHGRI in 1993, he called on Dr. Trent to found and direct the NHGRI’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR). The DIR’s charge is to translate discoveries emerging from the Institute’s genomic research into new tools and methods for prevention, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease.

“Knowing Francis the way I do,” Dr. Trent said in the Grand Rapids Press, “I think he’ll bring the reasoning of a physician and the really remarkable and unique talents of a world-recognized scientist to bear at a very important time when the advances in medicine and the advances in technology are meeting together.”

Dr. Trent, who also serves as president and research director of the TGen-affiliated Van Andel Research Institute, based Grand Rapids, Mich., noted that if confirmed, Dr. Collins’s leadership at NIH will affect every biomedical-research institution in the  United States.

“Everyone will be watching to see, ‘Are there programs that might be modified or directions more likely to be brought forth?'” Dr. Trent said in the Press. “I have every confidence that we’ll be well-positioned to adapt to those changes as they happen and it will be an exciting time to see that.”

For more information:

Francis Collins’ former Van Andel Institute colleague sees his appointment to National Institutes of Health as good news,” The Grand Rapids Press, 07/09/2009

Obama taps gene pioneer for NIH post,” The Arizona Republic | Ken Alltucker’s Biotech and Health Blog, 07/09/2009