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Your Environment. Your Health.

Olden to Step Down as Director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Tuesday, July 29, 2003, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Bill Grigg, NIEHS
(301) 402-3378

Olden Will Continue His NIEHS Research

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

Kenneth Olden, Ph.D.

Dr. Olden said, "I want to spend more time with my family and again become more directly involved in directing my research program," which he has continued while also directing the agencies. "Twelve years is enough as NIEHS/NTP director - 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 Thompson said, "Dr. Olden has been the kind of federal scientific leader we are proud to have in this department. He is known for his vision and his outreach and communication efforts. He has been an articulate and compelling spokesperson on the need for better scientific information for making important public policy decisions."

National Institutes of Health ( Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D. ( , said, "Ken's commitment to the advancement of science has been a model to us all at the NIH. He has helped young, minority scientists and called attention to the excessive health burdens borne by the poor. Under his leadership, the Institute's research portfolio has broadened from primarily basic biology into such human studies as the 50,000-woman the Sister Study ( - the largest study of its type seeking to find both environmental and genetic clues to breast cancer. He has also promoted the use of genetic tools to determine our varying susceptibility to environmental hazards."

Born in poverty in the eastern Tennessee farming community of Parrottsville, Dr. Olden rose to conduct frequently cited cancer-related studies and 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, who was born in slavery, relate vivid accounts of those days. Dr. Olden said that this heritage has fueled his efforts on behalf of community-based research on health disparities and environmental justice.

At NIEHS/NTP, he proved to be an innovative scientific manager. He conducted Town Meetings around the country to help inform his decisions regarding NIEHS' future research activities. He promoted the use of new genetic tools to determine how the environment helps or harms human health. He developed the NIEHS journal Environmental Health Perspectives as a monthly publication along with a new quarterly Environmental Health Perspectives-Toxicogenomics section. What he has called his mantra - the observation that human diseases are generally the product of a triangle of environment, genetics and age - has become widely accepted.

At the National Toxicology Program, the first federal chemical screening using genetically modified rodents has begun - 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 quicker.

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. Under Dr. Olden, NTP's Report on Carcinogens has declared the safety of saccharin and announced the carcinogenicity of dioxin, of second-hand smoke and sun lamps and of a number of industrial compounds.

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 18.

A cell biologist and biochemist, Olden was active in research into 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.

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