A conversation with the 4 NHGRI Scientific Directors
At the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), the scientific director leads the institute’s robust Intramural Research Program (IRP). Over its 30-year existence, the IRP has had four scientific directors: Jefferey Trent, Ph.D.; Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D.; Dan Kastner, M.D., Ph.D.; and Charles Rotimi, Ph.D., who is the current scientific director.
In their two-part conversation, moderated by Office of Communications Director Sarah Bates, M.S., the scientific directors discussed the history of the IRP, the important contributions of its researchers and administrators, the many hurdles and successes, and some fun stories along the way. Additionally, each scientific director reflected on how their leadership style contributed to shaping the IRP’s science and culture.
Note: Both parts of the video were recorded in 2023 to celebrate the IRP’s 30th anniversary.
About the Scientific Directors
Dr. Rotimi began his appointment as the NHGRI scientific director in early October 2021. He is a leading genetic epidemiologist and genomics researcher with expertise in statistical genetics, computational science, biochemistry, health disparities and scientific management. He is an NIH Distinguished Investigator, director of the trans-NIH Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, and chief of the NHGRI Metabolic, Cardiovascular and Inflammatory Disease Genomics Branch. He has designed and led major basic science and clinical research projects in human genomics. Dr. Rotimi is also a leader in the development of global genomics expertise and resources, acting as a vocal advocate for increased ancestral diversity in research participants and in the international scientific workforce.
In September 2023, Dr. Rotimi was awarded the Academy Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical Science by the New York Academy of Medicine.
Dr. Kastner served as Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 2010 to 2020 and continues to maintain a busy lab in the Medical Genetics Branch. Throughout his career at the NIH, Dr. Kastner's research has focused on using genetic and genomic strategies to understand inherited disorders of inflammation, often stimulated by patients with relatively rare disorders seen at the NIH Clinical Center hospital. This work has 1) provided the detailed molecular explanations for these illnesses; 2) provided the conceptual basis for highly effective targeted therapies; and 3) informed our understanding of more common illnesses. His group also proposed the now widely accepted overarching concept of autoinflammatory disease to denote disorders of the evolutionarily ancient innate branch of the human immune system.
Dr. Kastner has won a number of awards and honors, including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 and to the National Academy of Medicine in 2012, recognition as Federal Employee of the Year in 2018, the Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine in 2019, and the Crafoord Prize in Polyarthritis in 2022.
Dr. Green is currently the NHGRI Director. Prior to being appointed NHGRI Director in 2009, he held other prominent leadership positions, including Director of the NHGRI Genome Technology Branch, Founding Director of the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center, and NHGRI Scientific Director. In these roles, Dr. Green appointed an outstanding cadre of diverse genetic and genomic leaders who worked with him to shape the strategic vision and long-term goals of NHGRI, influencing the direction of the entire human genomics enterprise.
With the rapidly expanding scope of genomics research, Dr. Green has also led NHGRI’s close coordination with other components of NIH, agencies and organizations, playing an instrumental leadership role in developing many high-profile efforts relevant to genomics. These efforts include multiple NIH Common Fund Programs — such as the Undiagnosed Diseases Network, Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa), and the Human Microbiome Project — the Smithsonian-NHGRI exhibition Genome: Unlocking Life's Code, several trans-NIH data science initiatives, the NIH Genomic Data Sharing Policy and the NIH All of Us Research Program.
In 1994, Dr. Green joined the IRP, where he continued his work on the Human Genome Project. Specifically, his research program focused on mapping and sequencing the human genome — as well as similar efforts with other mammalian genomes — which together led to essential discoveries about the structure, function and evolution of the human genome. Later, Dr. Green’s group went on to identify the genes involved in several human health conditions, such as hereditary deafness, vascular disease, and inherited peripheral neuropathy.
In October 2023, Dr. Green was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.
Dr Trent was NHGRI's founding scientific director, serving in this role for more than nine years. His leadership and vision were instrumental in establishing NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research as one of the premier research programs in the world devoted to genetics and genomics. In recognition of his significant contributions to the research environment at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NHGRI established the annual Jeffrey M. Trent Lecture in Cancer Research in 2003. This lecture is given by a prominent cancer researcher who brings the kind of energy, creativity and enthusiasm to cancer research that Dr. Trent has exemplified throughout his career.
In 1993, Dr. Trent came to NIH with Dr. Francis Collins to establish and direct its newly formed Division of Intramural Research. Following his departure from NHGRI, Dr. Trent became the founding president and research director of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix.
Dr. Trent's research has provided important insights into the genetic basis of cancer. He is the author of more than 350 manuscripts in the scientific literature, numerous book chapters, invited reviews, and has given hundreds of invited lectures. He has received numerous honors and awards, and has sat on the editorial boards of a dozen scientific publications. He specializes in developing and integrating novel "omic" technologies, in support of clinical decision support in oncology patients.
Dr. Trent continues to lead studies of the genetic basis of various complex diseases in humans, as well as leading TGen's canine hereditary cancer program.
Last updated: February 13, 2024