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Biological Chemistry

Biochemist To Lead NIH Institute

Government: Jon R. Lorsch named director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences

by Britt E. Erickson
March 28, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 13

Credit: NIH
Lorsch will head up NIH’s basic research institute.
Biochemist Jon R. Lorsch, who was announced to lead National Institute of General Medical Sciences on March 25, 2013.
Credit: NIH
Lorsch will head up NIH’s basic research institute.

The National Institutes of Health has selected Jon R. Lorsch, a biochemist and leader in RNA biology, to direct the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Lorsch, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, expects to make the move to NIH this summer. He will replace Acting Director Judith H. Greenberg, who has been leading the institute since Jeremy M. Berg left for a position at the University of Pittsburgh in July 2011.

As NIGMS director, Lorsch will oversee a budget of about $2.4 billion. The majority of that money funds basic research in the biomedical sciences, including more chemistry-related research than in any of the other 27 NIH institutes and centers. NIGMS supports about 11% of NIH-funded grants, or about 4,600 grants, each year. The institute is also known for supporting research training and programs intended to increase the diversity of the biomedical workforce.

Calling Lorsch “broad-minded” and a “visionary thinker with strong management skills,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins says he is confident that Lorsch will help keep the U.S. at the forefront of biomedical research.

Lorsch holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University. He is well-known for his work on dissecting the molecular mechanics of translation initiation, the assembly of a ribosome on a messenger RNA molecule. Translation initiation plays a key role in controlling gene expression. Disruption of the process can lead to numerous human diseases.

What excites Lorsch most about becoming NIGMS director is the opportunity to help support breakthroughs in understanding living systems. “We have incredible new tools to interrogate the inner workings of biological systems—from free-electron lasers to genomic approaches that allow us to locate each transcribing RNA polymerase or translating ribosome in a cell,” he says. “I am eager to help find the best ways to use methods at all scales, atomic to whole organisms.”

At Johns Hopkins, Lorsch was also passionate about reforming the curricula for graduate and medical education. In his new role as NIGMS director, Lorsch says he will remain “committed to catalyzing innovations in scientific education and to producing the best-trained and most diverse biomedical research workforce in the world.”



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