Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who is performing the duties of the National Institutes of Health director, has selected Joni L. Rutter, Ph.D., as director of NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Dr. Rutter has served as NCATS acting director since April 2021. She officially began her role as NCATS director on Nov. 6, 2022.
Dr. Rutter will oversee a diverse portfolio of research activities focused on improving the translational process of turning scientific discoveries into health interventions. The portfolio includes the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program, which is one of NIH’s largest supported programs and has played an important role in the agency’s COVID-19 response. In addition, she will direct innovative research programs to advance diagnoses and treatments, including gene therapies, for some of the more than 10,000 known rare diseases. She also will lead labs at NIH that drive team science with the private sector to create and test innovative methods for improving the drug development process.
“Dr. Rutter took the helm at NCATS during the most critical public health challenge of our time,” said Dr. Tabak. “Throughout her scientific career and leadership roles at NIH, she has been at the forefront of many exciting and innovative initiatives, and I have great confidence that she will lead NCATS in accelerating the development paths for turning discoveries into treatments.”
Dr. Rutter joined NCATS in 2019 as deputy director. She has created strong networks across public and private sectors to inform existing and developing NCATS programs and significantly expanded these efforts as acting director. She has championed approaches for leveraging real world data and artificial intelligence/machine learning to rapidly address public health questions. In the area of rare disease research, Dr. Rutter led an initiative that used data from health care systems to calculate approximate health care costs for the millions of people with rare diseases. This and related initiatives prompted recommendations, such as enhancing the collection of rare disease patient data, to reduce the economic and medical burdens facing this community. She also led the National COVID Cohort Collaborative from inception to implementation, and it is now one of the largest collections of secure and deidentified clinical data in the United States for COVID-19 research.
Dr. Rutter has been a leader at NIH in enhancing community engagement and inclusion of underrepresented groups in biomedical research. She spearheads efforts to enhance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility among NCATS staff and the broader translational science workforce, and efforts to reduce health disparities through translational science approaches. Prior to joining NCATS, Dr. Rutter established the scientific programs within the NIH All of Us Research Program to advance precision medicine. The All of Us Research Program has been focused on ensuring that the 1 million U.S. participants who enroll represent all communities and backgrounds.
During her time at NIH, Dr. Rutter also served as director of the Division of Neuroscience and Behavior at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where she oversaw and developed research portfolios in basic and clinical neuroscience. She coordinated the NIDA Genetics Consortium and biospecimen repository.
Dr. Rutter earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship on gene-environment interactions in breast, ovarian and melanoma cancers at NIH’s National Cancer Institute.