The 2018 Pontifical Key Scientific Award recipient is Dr. Francis S. Collins, an individual with exceptional persistence, commitment to excellence, and significant contributions to the field of medicine. A man of strong faith, Dr. Collins teaches us all that fully embracing science does not require casting off religion; one can enrich and inform the other. Dr. Collins’ research has changed the way we, as humans, view and understand ourselves. His discoveries have provided staggering insight into our own genetic basis, which informs much of our physiological function. Dr. Collins currently serves as the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in July 2009 and held over in this same position by President Trump in 2017, Dr. Collins leads the NIH and its 27 Institutes and Centers. With its $37 billion annual budget, NIH is the largest single supporter of biomedical research in the world, funding thousands of scientists and research projects throughout the U.S. and around the globe. NIH supports work that spans the spectrum from basic to clinical research.
Dr. Collins is known for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993 to 2008. Prior to leading the Human Genome Project and the National Human Genome Research Institute, Dr. Collins was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Michigan. There, Dr. Collins helped identify the genes for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, and other conditions. He has played a pivotal role in biomedical research, in the United States and around the world. Among other contributions, Dr. Collins has opened up new avenues for research in many developing nations through the Human Heredity and Health in Africa initiative, which advances African research capacity and expertise in genomic science.
Dr. Collins has been a steadfast and forward-thinking leader in both academic settings and public service institutions. He received a B.S. from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University, an M.D. from the University of North Carolina, and completed a fellowship in human genetics at Yale University. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Collins has received numerous national and international awards for his achievements, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007 and the National Medal of Science in 2009.
Furthermore, Dr. Collins has always thought deeply about life’s fundamental questions, drawing connections between his scientific work and his personal faith. He has written a number of books on the subjects, including the New York Times best-seller, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”. Dr. Collins writes, “The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. He can be worshipped in the cathedral and in the laboratory.” For his monumental contributions to the field of biomedicine and his visionary ability to bridge the gaps between faith and science, we honor Dr. Francis Collins with the 2018 Pontifical Key Scientific Award.