The US National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)—the $2.4 billion branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tasked with laying the foundation for research into disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention—has a new leader. Earlier today, the agency announced that Jon Lorsch, a biophysical chemist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, would become the new director, starting this summer.
“They could not have done better at the NIH,” says Lorsch’s colleague Mario Amzel, director of the Biophysics and Physical Chemistry department at Hopkins. “He’s one of the best teachers at the medical school and has a strong interest in education, which seems to be one of the directions in which the NIH wants to go now.”
In 2011, for example, Lorsch proposed a new integrated model for graduate education in the life sciences that addressed a number of challenges, including the increased information burden and the need to train researchers who can work across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
In the lab, Lorsch’s work focuses on understanding the mechanisms of translational initiation in yeast cells. Last month, for instance, his group published two papers characterizing the molecular events through which messenger RNA is recognized by and recruited to the ribosome.
“Jon has exploited the tools available in yeast and combined them with powerful kinetic analyses to molecularly dissect the process of translation initiation,” says Thomas Dever, a biochemist at the US Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, who has worked with Lorsch on similar projects. “As a long-time collaborator, I am particularly excited to have him as a colleague at the NIH.”
The news of Lorsch’s appointment was equally well received by his former mentor and PhD advisor Jack Szostak, a geneticist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “It’s great to have another outstanding scientist as NIGMS Director,” he told Nature Medicine. “Jon is also a very funny person, and no doubt his sense of humor will help him in trying to get people with diverse interests to work together and support the best science in the most efficient manner.”
Lorsch will replace acting director Judith Greenberg, who stepped into the post two years ago after Jeremy Berg, who had served as NIGMS director from 2003 to 2011, left to lead science strategy and planning at the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences in Pennsylvania. (Nature Medicine conducted an interview with Berg in 2011 regarding his contributions to NIGMS and his decision to leave.) Under Greenberg, the NIGMS underwent a series of reorganizations, with the creation of two new divisions that combined existing NIGMS programs with those transferred from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). The NCRR was folded in 2011 to make room for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.