Hopkins Biochemist to Head NIH's Basic Science Institute

Jon Lorsch


After 2 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will soon have a permanent director for its basic research institute. Jon Lorsch, a biochemist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, will join the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) on 1 August.

Lorsch, 44, is a longtime NIGMS grantee who uses yeast to study how molecular machines inside cells initiate the translation of RNA into a protein. He will come to the $2.4 billion NIGMS, the fourth largest NIH institute, at a time when NIH is coping with a decade of flat budgets and a 5% budget cut this year from sequestration. Lorsch says his priorities will be to make the case for basic research—"the wellspring that feeds advances in medicine and technology," he says—and to "make sure taxpayer investment is used efficiently."

He also expects to help NIH carry out plans to improve graduate education and attract minorities to research, both areas he has worked on at Hopkins. Diversity in "scientific subjects, settings, and researchers," will be a theme, he says: "If we can ensure that we have the most effective ways to distribute funding, it will be for the good of the nation and scientists." A NIGMS policy that requires proposals from researchers who have $750,000 in funding to undergo additional review is "a step in the right direction," he says.

Lorsch will bring along a small lab and continue a collaboration with intramural researchers at NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Lorsch comes from the same Hopkins department once chaired by the previous NIGMS director, Jeremy Berg, who left in July 2011. A few months later Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cell biologist Chris Kaiser was named NIGMS director, but he withdrew days before he was to take over. (He later became MIT provost.) NIGMS division director Judith Greenberg has been serving as acting director in the interim.