Selwyn Vickers 4 LRThis month, I am excited share that National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins’ visit to the School of Medicine on March 5 and 6 was exceptionally impactful.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, such as those responsible for cystic fibrosis, and for his leadership of the international Human Genome Project. He was appointed the 16th NIH director by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Collins’ visit to UAB was one of the most meaningful events we have had on campus in recent years. NIH funding is critical to academic medical centers (AMCs) like UAB; studies show a close relationship between research and clinical excellence. AMCs that are highly ranked in NIH funding also have highly ranked clinical care programs. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Collins for his very memorable and influential visit.

Throughout his two days at UAB, he visited with UAB leaders, students, and junior faculty. Perhaps the most galvanizing appointment in his itinerary was the keynote address he delivered to a standing-room-only crowd in Margaret Cameron Spain Auditorium. His lecture, “Exceptional Opportunities for Biomedical Research,” forecasted 10 predictions in medical research for the next decade. Among those predictions, Collins showed how UAB is the leading the nation in each area. Some of his predictions included: dramatic advancement of individual human cell analysis, the ability to progressively identify brain cell types and circuits, and spectacular progress in diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases through harnessing CRISPR-Cas and other gene editing tools. He also discussed the All of Us Research Program, which aims to build the most diverse health database in history. Finally, Collins anticipated that in the next 10 years, medical research teams will have created a representative, vibrant, and innovative scientific workplace, free of racial and gender discrimination and enforcing a zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Collins stated that “manels” (men-only panels) are no longer acceptable.

Additionally, Collins addressed COVID-19 and its worldwide impact. He communicated several of the NIH’s efforts related to the virus, especially their preparation in basic research. They now know the virus’s structure and its resolute ability to get inside a human cell. Similarly, the NIH is currently focused on animal model development and providing resources for COVID-19 researchers. The NIH is, above all, focused on diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Collins acknowledged the influential work of UAB’s own Richard Whitley, M.D., associate director for Drug Discovery and Development, for his contributions of studying the drug remdesivir. Collins noted that several peer-reviewed journals cite remdesivir’s effectiveness and potential to be a “very appropriate way to try to treat people who have been infected.” To watch Collins’ full lecture at UAB, click here.

On that note, I’d like to tell you all a little bit about what we are doing here at UAB to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. First and foremost, UAB has extensive expertise and systems in place to monitor and address possible COVID-19 outbreaks in our area. A COVID-19 Communications and Policy Task Force at UAB has been established, and it is co-chaired by Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., MPH, FACP, FIDSA, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of Medicine, and Katie Osburne, director of Risk & Compliance and System Counsel of UA System. The task force is committed to diligently working with state, federal, and global health agencies on recommendations to reduce risk and develop strategies to mitigate spread of the virus and protect the health of our fellow citizens. During this state of emergency, UAB is dedicated to putting the safety and health of our patients, faculty, students, and staff as our highest priority.

Stay safe and well.


Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS

Senior Vice President for Medicine

Dean, UAB School of Medicine

James C. Lee Jr. Endowed Chair

University of Alabama at Birmingham

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