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banner Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
The healer-believer: Francis Collins
Francis Collins is a committed Christian and heads the publicly-funded National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in Washington DC, US.



It's interesting when you read the life of Christ how much of his time he spent healing the sick.

Francis Collins
He describes himself as a physician-scientist and says his sole aim is to cure disease.

Dr Collins has been directly involved in ground-breaking human gene research. With colleagues, he identified the gene for cystic fibrosis in 1989, the gene for neurofibromatosis in 1990 and the gene for Huntingdon's Disease in 1993.

Dr Collins draws much of his inspiration and scientific drive from his faith.

Breast cancer

"It's interesting when you read the life of Christ how much of his time he spent healing the sick. There must have been a reason for that - he was modelling for us what it is we are intended to do by following his path."

Dr Collins considers himself, and all humanity, to have a mandate from Jesus to save lives.

A soft-spoken and, for the field, uncontroversial scientist, he was appointed director of the NHGRI in 1993, following in the immediate footsteps of DNA legend James Watson.

Dr Collins' own research laboratory explores the molecular genetics of breast cancer, prostate cancer, adult-onset diabetes and many other diseases.

Tutored at home

His professional reward, he says, comes when he discovers something that "the creator knew ahead of time - that's one of the aspects of my existence I wouldn't trade for anything".

He was raised on a small farm in Virginia and was tutored at home until the age of 12. He studied chemistry at the University of Virginia and then did a doctorate in physical chemistry at Yale.

It was then, he says, that he recognised the beginnings of a revolution in molecular biology and genetics, and he enrolled in the medical school of the University of North Carolina.

After graduating, he joined Yale University and then the University of Michigan, where he developed a method of crossing large stretches of DNA to identify disease genes - the technique that achieved spectacular success in his subsequent work.

By Emma Young

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