The Washington Post

Federal Faces: Michael M. Gottesman is working to make a difference at NIH

NAME: Michael M. Gottesman

Position: Deputy director for intramural research, National Institutes of Health (NIH); chief, Laboratory of Cell Biology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, NIH

Best known for: Gottesman has spent nearly four decades as a well-respected scientist at the NIH, conducting key studies on how cancer cells resist destruction by several widely used chemotherapy drugs. He developed molecular tools to define the drug-resistance genes found in individual cancers, information used to predict a patient’s response to therapy. Gottesman’s breakthroughs have opened the door to designing more effective medicines.

In addition, Gottesman has spent the past 19 years in the dual role of overseeing the NIH’s biomedical research operation, which includes 1,200 principal investigators, and the more than 4,000 postdoctoral fellows working at 23 centers. In this administrative role, Gottesman coordinates all of the NIH’s internal research, recruiting skilled scientists and training the next generation of biomedical and behavioral investigators.

During Gottesman’s tenure, NIH research has been responsible for numerous accomplishments, including the HPV vaccine, new treatment and insights into multiple sclerosis, more effective imaging for early detection of heart disease, research that will lead to the development of a universal vaccine for influenza, and the creation of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program. During this period, Nobel Prizes have been awarded to seven scientists who trained or worked at the NIH.

Gottesman also has developed and championed programs to encourage women and minorities to pursue science and come to the NIH. Under his leadership, Asian scientists in tenure-track positions increased from 10 to 30 percent, while the number of women in the clinical-investigator tenure track rose from 28 to 38 percent.

NIH Director Francis Collins said Gottesman has “established high standards that all employees try to achieve in terms of scientific excellence.”

Government work: Gottesman began his NIH career as a research associate in 1971. He then worked as a senior investigator, and became chief of the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the National Cancer Institute in 1990, a post he still holds. He briefly served as acting director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, and in 1994 assumed a second full-time job as deputy director for intramural research at NIH.

Motivation for service: After graduating from medical school and completing an internship in 1971, Gottesman joined the Public Health Service at the NIH and soon discovered that the extraordinary research opportunities at the NIH were unbeatable.

Biggest challenge: Gottesman’s biggest challenge is to harmonize the realities of government service with the need to nourish the most outstanding science in a creative work environment.

Quote: “I am most proud of maintaining an environment that has been conducive to high-quality science over many years. The NIH is a crown jewel in the government, and we want to make sure the jewels are shining brightly.”

— From the Partnership for Public Service

For a full profile, go to The Fed Page at



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