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Constantine Stratakis was scientific director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for 10 years.

National Institutes of Health

After claims of sex bias, scientific leader at NIH’s child health institute withdraws from new job

Constantine Stratakis, the geneticist who directed intramural science at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for the past decade, withdrew today from a position he was slated to take in June as executive director and chief scientific officer of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).

His withdrawal came 6 days after Science published allegations of gender discrimination by Stratakis from women at the $1.56 billion NICHD, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. On Monday, senior women at RI-MUHC submitted a position statement urging its board of directors to revoke Stratakis’s hiring agreement. “We respectfully submit that it will not be possible for Dr. Stratakis to effectively meet the requirements of the … job, in view of the serious accusations that have come to light,” they wrote in the letter submitted to MUHC’s president and the chairman of the research institute’s board; they also circulated it to the research institute’s students, staff, and faculty. By Tuesday evening more than 500 of them had signed it. (The research institute has 445 scientists, more than 1100 staff, and nearly 1200 trainees.) The RI-MUHC board met this morning and after the meeting, it announced Stratakis’s withdrawal.

Its statement read, in part:

The Board of Directors … acknowledged today Dr. Constantine Stratakis’ decision to withdraw from his RI-MUHC and associated appointments at the MUHC and McGill University. Dr. Stratakis, who was scheduled to take up his responsibilities on June 1, 2020, confirmed that circumstances beyond his and his family's control forced him to reconsider their future.

Stratakis, who is still a lab-running scientist at NICHD, was scientific director there from 2009 until February when he stepped down in preparation for his move to McGill. He could not immediately be reached for comment. But in an earlier statement to Science, he denied the allegations and defended his record, noting that nine of 10 intramural clinical investigators at NICHD are women and that he had eliminated a heavily male layer of middle managers and replaced them with associate scientific directors, 50% of whom were women. “The NICHD intramural program is highly supportive of women scientists,” he said in that statement.

Erin Wolff, an infertility physician who filed an equal employment opportunity complaint naming Stratakis in 2015, said today, “I’m pleased that his withdrawal will not give him a fresh opportunity to stifle the careers of women scientists and scientists who do women’s health research.”

NICHD did not immediately respond to emailed questions about Stratakis’s future there, but told CTV, a Canadian TV network, that it “is aware of the Science article and does not agree with several of its conclusions. NIH policy precludes commenting on personnel matters. However, the fact remains that NICHD supports an organizational culture in which women scientists are leaders and are acknowledged and celebrated for their accomplishments.”