This month, the director of the National Institutes of Health did something unusual for a government bigwig: He sang on public radio. And played guitar. Francis Collins performed his bluesy original, “Knock Out Disease,” on “The Diane Rehm Show” to highlight the importance of medical research. (Sample lyric: “Disease don’t care if you’re black or white, disease don’t care if you’re left or right.”) We asked him about it.
Was this your first performance?
No, I’m afraid it’s a regular event.
What other songs have you written?
I have some silly DNA songs. I had the privilege of leading the Human Genome Project, so you have to sing about that.
Have you ever considered making an album?
People have asked that. I’ve never quite gotten organized enough. Since I’m a government employee, there would probably be a conflict of interest.
What inspired you to blend medicine and music?
As somebody who has spent a lot of my life enjoying and occasionally participating in music and as a scientist, I like the idea of bringing those things together sometimes. It’s also an opportunity to break the ice a bit if people are feeling science is a little austere.
Why did you want to bring attention to fighting disease?
This is an issue that we can all agree on at a time when, in this country, there seem to be almost no issues that we can all agree on.
Your recent performance had a specific inspiration, right?
We announced [this month] a new model to get 10 pharmaceutical companies to work together with the NIH to identify the next generation of biological targets of disease. We’re focusing on diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Alzheimer’s.