NIH Director Francis Collins Takes the Lead in Reconciling Science and Religion

New challenges at the renowned institution include finding the genes that cause cancer, heart disease.

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When Francis Collins took the helm of the National Institutes of Health in August, he'd already proved himself to be a fiercely competitive researcher there, heading up its 10-year effort to sequence the human genome and pioneering the hunt for genes that cause cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease.

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Now Collins faces new challenges in leading the world's largest research institution, overseeing a $31 billion budget. Since taking the helm at NIH, Collins has increased funding for controversial stem cell research and launched a major effort to find the genes that cause heart disease and cancer.

Collins has also taken a leadership role in speaking out about the conflict between science and religion. A former atheist who now calls himself a "serious Christian," Collins argues that faith in science and in God are not incompatible and that faith can inspire scientific discovery. Still, this physician who grew up on a small farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley isn't all business. He's well known in the scientific community for playing rock-and-roll guitar and composing humorous songs on the conflicts among health, research funding, and pure science that he faces every day.

The U.S. News podcast series Leadership for the Next Decade explores the ideas, innovations, and solutions that will inspire America for the future. Moderated by U.S. News Editor Brian Kelly, the podcasts feature exclusive interviews with leaders across the spectrum, from education, business, art, science, and medicine to government, public service, and philanthropy.