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National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Bill Grigg
(301) 496-4461

Olden to Step Down as Director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program
Will Continue His NIEHS Research

Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., Director of the National Toxicology Program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health, today announced his intention to step down from both posts. He said he will remain in the positions until a replacement can be found.

“I want to spend more time with my family and be more involved in directing my research program,” Dr. Olden said. “I have been the NIEHS/NTP director for twelve years — the longest I have stayed in any position. That I have remained this long as director is the best indication of how much I have enjoyed the scientific and public health challenges of leading these great institutions.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said, “Dr. Olden has been the kind of federal scientific leader we are proud to have in this department. He has been an articulate and compelling spokesperson on the need for better scientific information for making important public policy decisions.

“Ken’s commitment to the advancement of science has been a model to us all at the NIH,” said National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. “He is known for his vision and his outreach and communication efforts. In addition, Ken has helped young, minority scientists and called attention to the excessive health burdens borne by the poor.”

Born in poverty in the eastern Tennessee farming community of Parrottsville, Dr. Olden rose to become, in 1991, the first African American named to head an institute of the National Institutes of Health. He recalls that as a child he heard his great-grandmother relate vivid accounts of her days as a slave. He said that this heritage fueled his efforts on behalf of community-based research on health disparities and environmental justice.

At NIEHS/NTP Dr. Olden proved to be an innovative scientific manager. He conducted Town Meetings around the country to help inform the scientific community of his decisions regarding NIEHS’ future research activities. Under his leadership, the Institute’s research portfolio broadened from primarily basic biology into such human studies as the 50,000-woman Sister Study — the largest study of its type seeking to find both environmental and genetic clues to breast cancer. In addition, Dr. Olden developed the NIEHS journals Environmental Health Perspectives as a monthly journal with an Environmental Health Perspectives-Toxicogenomics section.

Dr. Olden also promoted the use of genetic tools to determine our varying susceptibility to environmental hazards — how the environment helps or harms human health. His observation that human diseases are generally the product of a triangle of environment, genetics, and age has become widely accepted.

With Dr. Olden’s support, the National Toxicology Program has begun the first federal chemical screening using genetically modified rodents — a process Dr. Olden has supported because he believes it will provide more safety with fewer animals and at less cost. The changes, he hopes, will also help bring needed products, such as new prescription drugs, to market more quickly.

Dr. Olden earned a B.S. at Knoxville College, an M.S. from the University of Michigan and, in 1970, a doctorate in biology from Temple University in Philadelphia. He did much of the research for that doctorate at the University of Rochester, where he was presented a second doctorate — the honorary degree of Doctor of Sciences — this past May.

A cell biologist and biochemist, Dr. Olden researched the properties of cell surface molecules and their roles in human cancer at Harvard University and the National Cancer Institute. In 1985, he became director of the Howard University Cancer Center and professor and chairman of the Howard Department of Oncology. While serving there he was appointed to NIEHS.

His honors include appointment by President George H. W. Bush to membership on the National Cancer Advisory Board, membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; the Calver Award from the American Public Health Association; the HHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award; the President’s Meritorious and Distinguished Executive Awards, and the American College of Toxicology’s First Distinguished Service Award.

Dr. Olden and his wife, Sandra L. White, Ph.D., and daughter Heather live in Durham, N.C. He also has three grown children.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is one of 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The mission of the NIEHS is to reduce the burden of human illness and dysfunction from environmental causes by understanding each of these elements and how they interrelate.

The NTP serves the federal regulatory health agencies with its findings and the publication of the federal Report on Carcinogens, on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services. NTP’s Report on Carcinogens has declared the safety of saccharin and announced the carcinogenicity of second-hand smoke and sun lamps and of a number of industrial compounds, as well as the recent up-grading of dioxin as a "known human carcinogen.”

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