Francis Collins

Sectors: Longevity Legends, Science and Academia.

Francis Sellers Collins is an American physician-geneticist who discovered the genes associated with a number of diseases and led the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States. Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

Collins also has written a number of books on science, medicine, and religion, including the New York Times bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. After leaving the directorship of NHGRI and before becoming director of the NIH, he founded and served as president of The BioLogos Foundation, which promotes discourse on the relationship between science and religion and advocates the perspective that belief in Christianity can be reconciled with acceptance of evolution and science. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Collins to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

At Yale, Collins worked under the direction of Sherman Weissman, and in 1984 the two published a paper, "Directional cloning of DNA fragments at a large distance from an initial probe: a circularization method". The method described was named chromosome jumping, to emphasize the contrast with an older and much more time-consuming method of copying DNA fragments called chromosome walking. Collins joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1984, rising to the rank of professor in internal medicine and human genetics. His gene-hunting approach, which he named "positional cloning", developed into a powerful component of modern molecular genetics. In 1993 National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healy appointed Collins to succeed James D. Watson as director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, which became National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in 1997. As director, he oversaw the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium, which was the group that successfully carried out the Human Genome Project. In 1994 Collins founded NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research, a collection of investigator-directed laboratories that conduct genome research on the NIH campus. In June 2000 Collins was joined by President Bill Clinton and biologist Craig Venter in making the announcement of a working draft of the human genome. An initial analysis was published in February 2001, and scientists worked toward finishing the reference version of the human genome sequence by 2003, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of James D. Watson and Francis Crick's publication of the structure of DNA.

While leading the National Human Genome Research Institute, Collins was elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Canada Gairdner International Award in 1990. He was a Kilby International Awards recipient in 1993. He received the Biotechnology Heritage Award with J. Craig Venter in 2001, from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Collins and Venter shared the "Biography of the Year" title from A&E Network in 2000. In 2005, Collins and Venter were honored as two of "America's Best Leaders" by U.S. News & World Report and the Harvard University Center for Public Leadership. In 2005 Collins received the William Allan Award from the American Society of Human Genetics. In 2007 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2008 he was awarded the Inamori Ethics Prize and National Medal of Science. In the same year, Collins won the Trotter Prize where he delivered a lecture called "The Language of God". Collins also received the Albany Medical Center Prize in 2010 and the Pro Bono Humanum Award of the Galien Foundation in 2012, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Public Service Award in 2017, the Pontifical Key Scientific Award in 2018, and the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize in 2018.

Francis Collins has a deep interest on aging and longevity. Dr. Collins' laboratory at NIH seeks to identify and understand the function of genes involved in a range of human diseases, both rare and common, with the ultimate goal of identifying new therapeutic opportunities. One of the lab's significant projects focuses on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS), a rare genetic disorder characterized by premature aging. Furthermore, he has moderated multiple panels, discussions and conferences related to ageing and longevity. He moderated a panel recently convened at the Milken Institute Global Conference. The panel —made up of luminaries in geroscience research — gave the audience updates on recent promising studies, about the most interesting research that is giving them reason to think that extending not only lifespan but also health span is within reach — and within a reasonable timeframe. It may not happen in the near future, but is definitely on the horizon.