Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the National Institutes of Health who may be best known for leading the Human Genome Project (HGP), will be the featured speaker during SMU’s 102nd all-University Commencement ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Moody Coliseum.
Dr. Collins – whose own personal research efforts led to the isolation of the genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome – will receive the Doctor of Science degree, honoris causa, from SMU during the ceremony. The entire event, including Collins’ address, will be live streamed at smu.edu/live.
“We are honored to have a pioneering scientist and national leader of Dr. Collins’ stature as featured speaker at Commencement,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His life is testament to a strong, unwavering commitment to the search for scientific knowledge paired with deep religious faith. He has much to share with us.”
As NIH director, Collins oversees the work of the largest institutional supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009 and was asked to remain in the position by President Trump in January 2017. As director, he has helped launch major research initiatives to advance the use of precision medicine for more tailored healthcare, increase our understanding of the neural networks of the brain to improve treatments for brain diseases, and identify areas of cancer research that are most ripe for acceleration to improve cancer prevention and treatment.
While director of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, he oversaw the HGP, a 13-year international effort to map and sequence the 3 billion letters in human DNA. HGP scientists finished the sequence in April 2003, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick’s seminal publication describing the double-helix structure of DNA. It remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project and one of the most significant scientific undertakings in modern history.
As an innovative evolutionary geneticist and a devout Christian, Collins also has gained fame for his writings on the integration of logic and belief. His first book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, became a New York Times bestseller in 2006. Since then, he has written The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine (2011) and edited a selection of writings, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith (2010).