Serving as the Director of NINDS for the past 11 years – and as Scientific Director for eight years before that – has been an enormous privilege. As I prepare to leave office at the end of September, I want to thank the incredibly smart, dedicated, and talented staff for their hard work and commitment to NINDS and its mission. I also want to acknowledge the many contributions of the scientists, clinicians, patients, caregivers, and advocates that are part of the NINDS community. I have truly enjoyed working with all of you.
During the past 19 years there have been a remarkable number of changes at NIH and across biomedical science. When I started in 1995, we were reshaping the intramural program in response to recommendations from the Marks Cassell report and the NIH budget had not yet begun to double. I became Director in September 2003, the last month of the doubling, and we have worked creatively to support our mission and the neuroscience research enterprise as our budget declined in real dollars. The scientific landscape has also changed dramatically, with advances such as the completion of the Human Genome Project and the discovery of human embryonic stem cells. The first enabled the discovery of hundreds of genes that cause neurological disorders or increase risk. The second led to the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells and the opportunity to create in vitro human models of disease to elucidate mechanism and test therapies.
I have been fortunate to work on a number of interesting and important efforts with wonderful colleagues across NIH. We designed the K99/R00 NIH Pathway to Independence Award, set goals for funding early stage investigators, and paved the way for NIH to support human embryonic stem cell research.
Here at NINDS, we worked together to explore difficult issues and bring them to the attention of the broader NIH community. For example, NINDS staff recognized the need to set standards for the rigorous conduct of science and transparent reporting and their efforts led to changes in editorial policies at Nature and Science and a broad NIH effort to address reproducibility. Most recently we have called attention to the fact that funding for fundamental basic science has significantly decreased in NINDS and initiated strategies to reverse the decline.
We created a vibrant and collegial neuroscience community at NIH. This started in the intramural program with a shared seminar series program, a shared neuroscience website, and most recently the completion of the Porter Neuroscience Building that will house 85 investigators from nine ICs. The Neuroscience Blueprint, a cooperative effort among the 15 Institutes, Centers and Offices that fund extramural neuroscience research, has grown from a small enterprise with an initial budget of $6.7M in FY04 to $39.6 in FY14 and supports a range of projects, including the Human Connectome Project, Neurotherapeutics, training grants and an innovative diversity program. The extramural community is also joining together to support the NIH BRAIN initiative, an ambitious effort to explore the last great frontier in biomedical research: understanding how the human brain works.
I leave with a great sense of pride in what we were able to accomplish together. While I am looking forward to what comes next, I will miss working with you all. But I know the important work of the Institute will continue because NINDS has a wonderful team in place.
Please welcome and support Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., as he assumes the role of Acting NINDS Director on October 3. Walter has ably served as NINDS Deputy Director since January 2007. He trained in neurology and cellular neurophysiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School where he rose to become Professor and Vice Chair of Neurology. Walter is an internationally renowned neurologist and experienced laboratory and clinical investigator; his outstanding leadership and administrative skills and scientific insight serve the Institute well. I am delighted to be leaving NINDS in such excellent hands.
In closing, I want to extend my appreciation to the NIH community and my thanks to my friend and colleague, NIH Director Francis Collins, who released this kind statement announcing my retirement and Walter’s new role.
Last updated July 31, 2014