NIH names Rick Woychik director of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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Press release

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Woychik will lead NIH research efforts on environmental influences on human health and will also serve as director of the US National Toxicology Program.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D., has appointed Richard (Rick) P. Woychik, Ph.D., as Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of NIH, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Dr. Woychik has served as Acting Director of NIEHS since October 2019 and officially began his new role as Director of NIEHS on June 7, 2020. NIEHS conducts and supports environmental health science in alignment with real public health needs and translates scientific discoveries into insights that can inform real individual and public health outcomes.

“Innovation has been a hallmark of Rick’s scientific career and is central to his vision for leading the NIEHS,” said Dr Collins. “He will work to support new technologies and scientific approaches in the field of environmental health sciences – applying his proven skills of scientific excellence, creativity and rigor to improve public health.”

Woychik is highly respected for a long list of accomplishments in mammalian genetics and environmental epigenetics. His lab was the first to identify a gene associated with polycystic kidney disease, the first to connect a protocadherin gene ultimately linked to hearing loss in patients with Cushing’s disease, and the first to clone a gene linked to called obesity agouti. Dr. Woychik says his passion for epigenetics and environmental health science began when his research group discovered that the obesity trait associated with one of agouti mutant mouse lines were influenced by the epigenome during embryonic development.

“Individuals, with their unique biological make-up, respond to the environment in different ways. Our current research strategies primarily use a ‘one size fits all’ approach that ignores this critically important variable,” explained the Dr. Woychik “My vision is to address individual genetic, epigenetic and biological variability in establishing research strategies for the study of public health and environmental toxicology.

Consideration of environmental and genetic factors that contribute to an individual’s health is generally referred to as precision medicine. This is a major goal at NIH, especially through the All of us Research program. Dr. Woychik will work closely with the All of us leadership to contribute NIEHS research on environmental exposures to this historic program.

Dr. Woychik obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology in 1984 from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He entered the field of molecular genetics during his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Philip Leder in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Woychik originally joined the NIEHS in 2010 as an assistant director. He has successfully led the institute’s strategic planning exercises and guided the implementation of plans across a wide range of scientific disciplines. While his own expertise is as a basic scientist conducting genetic and epigenetic experiments to study the influence of the environment, as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the institute he interacted with researchers conducting a wide range of environmental health science research. Drawing on this experience, he brings a wealth of in-depth knowledge relating to the many scientific disciplines needed to conduct research in environmental health sciences. Prior to NIEHS, Woychik served nearly 10 years as President and CEO of Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine, where he oversaw seven major construction projects in Maine and California, strengthened the direction of the organization on basic mechanistic research in model organisms with an emphasis on application to human health and disease, created the Genetic Resources Science division and oversaw a major realignment of the nonprofit business unit to significantly improve the efficiency and awareness of the global biomedical community.

“I have always conducted my research in a highly collaborative way and reached out to researchers with different and complementary expertise to mine,” Dr. Woychik said. “It’s a paradigm that I’ve also embraced as science administrator and plan to do the same as director of NIEHS.”

As director of the NIEHS, Woychik also inherits the additional responsibility of director of the National Toxicology Program (NTP). The NTP is a federal interagency program that reports directly to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Three federal agencies make up the NTP, including NIEHSthe National Center for Toxicological Researchwhich is part of the United States Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healthwhich is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): The NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of the National Institutes of Health. For more information about the NIEHS or topics related to environmental health, visit www.niehs.nih.gov or subscribe to a news list.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):The NIH, the country’s medical research agency, comprises 27 institutes and centers and is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the primary federal agency that conducts and supports basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and studies the causes, treatments, and cures for common and rare diseases. For more information about the NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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