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Morehouse Cardiologist Tapped to Head National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

5 April 2012 5:33 pm
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Gary Gibbons, a cardiologist and scientist at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, today was named director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

At Morehouse, Gibbons, 55, founded and directs a cardiovascular research institute that focuses on areas including basic science and ethnic disparities in health. Gibbons's own lab studies how genetic variation influences vascular biology and cardiovascular disease. In an announcement, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins praised Gibbons's "extraordinary scientific skills, tremendous energy and bold vision." He will join NIH this summer.

With a budget of $3.1 billion, NHLBI is the third-largest of NIH's 27 institutes and centers. The institute has not had a permanent director since Elizabeth Nabel left in late 2009 to head Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Gibbons will bring to four the number of NIH institute directors (all men) who are African-American.

Gibbons told ScienceInsider he was interested in the job because of his "intimate" familiarity with NHLBI—he's a longtime grantee and adviser—and his commitment to "being sure that NHLBI continues its legacy of doing discovery science that advances public health." He would like to revisit the institute's strategic vision "with a renewed look that's more timely and contemporary."

Although NHLBI has been in good hands under acting director Susan Shurin (who will return to her post as deputy director), the lack of a permanent director has slowed decisions such as committing to large, costly clinical trials, says Leslee Shaw, a health outcomes researcher at Emory University and a member of the NHLBI advisory council. Gibbons's skill set is "kind of unique. He'll be able to slide up and down the interests of NHLBI and offer broad experience," Shaw says. She also praises his leadership style: "He's very thoughtful" and a "good listener."

One reason it may have taken so long to find a new NHLBI director is that clinicians often take a salary cut when they move to NIH. Candidates for top NIH jobs also might be put off by money problems: NIH's budget hasn't grown in a decade and could face cuts.

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