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Biden Picks Cancer Expert Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to Head the National Institutes of Health

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday nominated cancer specialist Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to become director of the National Institutes of Health.

Bertagnolli is a surgeon and cancer researcher who last fall became the first female director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the second woman named permanent director of the NIH, one of the world’s leading biomedical research agencies.

“Dr. Bertagnolli has spent her career pioneering scientific discovery and pushing the boundaries of what is possible to improve cancer prevention and treatment,” Biden said in a statement. She will “ensure that NIH continues to be a innovation engine to improve the health of the American people.

Bertagnolli would also bring the patient’s perspective to the work. Shortly after becoming director of the NCI, she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

“It’s one thing to know about cancer as a doctor, but it’s another to experience it firsthand as a patient as well,” Bertagnolli said when announcing his diagnosis and treatment plans in December. “To anyone with cancer today: I am truly in this together with you.”

Cancer is a priority for Biden, who lost his adult son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.

But the NIH, with a budget of $47 billion, funds and oversees a wide variety of medical research beyond cancer, including infectious diseases, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders, diabetes, drug addiction, and mental health.

The NIH has been without a permanent director since Dr Francis Collins, a renowned geneticist, resigned in December 2021 after 12 years at the helm. If confirmed, Bertagnolli would replace the agency’s acting director, Dr. Lawrence Tabak.

Before her appointment as head of the NCI, Bertagnolli was a professor at Harvard and a surgical oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The daughter of first-generation Italian and French Basque immigrants, she grew up on a ranch in southwestern Wyoming. She earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Princeton University and attended the University of Utah School of Medicine.

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