New Directions in the NHGRI Office of the Director

January 16, 2008

Laura L. Rodrigues, Ph.D. (left) and Kathy L. Kopnisky, Ph.D.To advance its efforts to build upon the foundation laid by the sequencing of the human genome in a swift and efficient manner, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has made several key staff changes in the Office of the Director.

This month, Kathy L. Kopnisky, Ph.D., joined NHGRI as Chief of Staff in the Immediate Office of the Director (IOD), enabling Acting Chief Laura Lyman Rodriguez, Ph.D., to return to her policy roots as the new Senior Advisor to the Director for Research Policy.

"I'm excited to have an experienced and motivated scientific administrator like Dr. Kopnisky join my staff. This will help NHGRI play an even greater role in shaping the ever-expanding field of genomics," said NHGRI Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "To that end, I'm also thrilled that Dr. Rodriguez will now have the freedom to focus her wealth of talent and expertise on the crucial area of research policy. Her work is essential to the development of responsible policies for areas of genomic research that promise to change the face of medicine."

Dr. Rodriguez holds a doctorate in cell biology from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She has served NHGRI since November 2002, when she joined the Policy and Program Analysis Branch as a health policy analyst. Named Special Advisor to the Director in September 2003, she maintained a policy portfolio on issues surrounding human subjects research ethics and provided scientific support and coordination for the Director's activities and special projects.

One of Dr. Rodriguez's most significant contributions to research policy has been her role in the development of the NIH Policy for Datasharing in Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS). Over the past two years, NHGRI and other partners in the public and private sectors have pioneered the development and use of GWAS. These studies, which involve scanning the genomes of thousands of people for markers of genetic variation, have provided a powerful new tool to identify the genetic roots of common, complex traits and diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. The ground-breaking GWAS policy for NIH-supported researchers, which Dr. Rodriguez helped to craft, was published in the Federal Register last summer and is now in the process of being implemented.

"With the expansion and scale-up of whole genome association studies across disciplines, I now have the opportunity to develop the policy issues I came to NHGRI to focus on: informed consent, participant involvement in genomic and genetic studies, and improvement of regulatory issues that can unnecessarily encumber the conduct of research," said Dr. Rodriguez.

Dr. Rodriguez also contributed to the policy framework and legal partnership of the Genetic Association Information Network (GAIN), which is administered by the Foundation for NIH Research. She looks forward to more involvement in the development of public-private research partnerships in her new role.

In addition to her responsibilities in the policy arena, Dr. Rodriguez was tasked with managing the NHGRI Director's staff in 2005 and helped to lay the groundwork for the arrival in January 2008 of the IOD's first full-time Chief of Staff, Dr. Kopnisky.

Dr. Kopnisky brings eight years of experience in scientific administration at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to her new position with NHGRI. Dr. Kopnisky holds a doctorate in human physiology with a concentration in molecular and cellular neurobiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville. She most recently served as the Chief of HIV Therapeutics/Clinical Trails and Psychiatric Programs in NIMH's Division of Extramural Research. Her portfolio focused on understanding the mechanisms by which HIV promotes brain dysfunction and fostering therapeutics development for the clinical complications of NeuroAIDS.

"I've found NHGRI a fascinating place to work, at the forefront of biomedical research and an exciting new career path," said Dr. Kopnisky.

As chief of staff, she will facilitate scientific efforts on behalf of Dr. Collins. She will oversee the day-to-day operations of the IOD and compile background research to help develop Dr. Collins' scientific presentations.

"I also hope to be a go-between, a home for fledging scientific initiatives we are exploring and either see them through to completion or pass off to the appropriate networks," said Dr. Kopnisky, who cites a pioneering effort to identify genetic variants associated with autism as one of the innovative projects currently demanding her attention.

Last updated: June 02, 2010