NIH Names New Director for AIDS Research

Date: May 15, 1998
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Author: Office of AIDS Research (OAR) of NIH

NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D., has named Neal Nathanson, M.D., to serve as the new Director of NIH's Office of AIDS Research (OAR). Dr. Nathanson, a world leader in viral pathogenesis, has a broad background in virology, epidemiology, and public health. He is an active member of the NIH AIDS Vaccine Research Committee, chaired by Dr. David Baltimore.

Dr. Nathanson brings a powerful scientific intellect, great compassion, and long administrative experience to the task of leading the NIH AIDS research program at this critical time. He will have a central role in our continuing efforts to develop an effective vaccine, improve treatments for HIV disease, and prevent transmission of HIV," said Dr. Varmus. The previous OAR director, Dr. William E. Paul, returned last November to the Laboratory of Immunology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and has extended his activities to help search for an effective HIV vaccine. Dr. Jack Whitescarver has been serving in the interim as the OAR Acting Director.

The OAR, located within the Office of the Director of NIH, is responsible for coordinating the scientific, budgetary, legislative, and policy elements of the NIH AIDS research program, as well as the promotion of collaborative research activities in domestic and international settings. OAR conducted the first comprehensive evaluation of the NIH AIDS research program. The final report, known as the "Levine Report," provided a blueprint for restructuring the NIH AIDS research program to streamline research, strengthen high-quality programs, eliminate inadequate programs, and ensure that the American people reap the full benefits of their substantial investment in AIDS research.

In implementing a key recommendation of that report, the OAR has made HIV vaccine development a high priority, restructuring and revitalizing the program, and providing significantly increased resources. Dr. Varmus also stated, "The recruitment of Dr. Nathanson to serve as OAR Director will further enhance our deep commitment to vaccine research."

Dr. Nathanson was educated at Harvard University, where he received both a BS and an MD degree, followed by clinical training in internal medicine at the University of Chicago and postdoctoral training in virology at Johns Hopkins University. Early in his career, Dr. Nathanson spent two years at the Centers for Disease Control where he headed the Polio Surveillance Unit. Later he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health where he became Professor and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Epidemiology. He then moved to the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center where he chaired the Department of Microbiology for 15 years, finally serving for two years as Vice Dean for Research and Research Training.

Dr. Nathanson is known particularly for his contributions to the field of viral epidemiology as the author of the definitive papers on the epidemiology of polio. During a research career spanning 35 years, he has worked with a large number of viruses and disease conditions, and has made many important contributions such as the clear delineation of the two major routes by which poliovirus could be disseminated in its host, the introduction of immunosuppression to understand the role of the immune response in recovery from primary viral infections, the demonstration that lymphocytic choriomeningitis could be prevented or enhanced by immune manipulation, and the detailed genetic analysis of bunyavirus virulence. He did some of the early studies of visna virus of sheep, the prototype of the lentiviruses, of which the AIDS virus is another member. In recent years, his NIH-sponsored work has included studies in the mechanisms by which HIV causes disease.