September 10, 2004

Stead to lead National Library of Medicine board

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William Stead, M.D.

Stead to lead National Library of Medicine board

William Stead, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and director of the Informatics Center, has been elected chairman of the board of regents of the National Library of Medicine, one of the National Institutes of Health and the world's largest medical library.

The NLM is the primary source of funding for biomedical informatics research grants, providing a total of about $60 million in funding, all of which relates in some way to biomedical informatics, the specialty Stead is largely credited with helping pioneer.

Stead said he will steer the board toward two main objectives.

"First, the NLM has an immediate need for additional space," he said.

In anticipation of the growth of biotechnology and molecular technology information, Congress created in 1988 the National Center for Biotechnology Information within the NLM. Now the NCBI houses, among other databases, GenBank, all of the data from the Human Genome Project and all molecular research conducted around the world, said Bob Mehnert, NLM spokesman.

Another major component of the library is the Lister Hill Center for Biomedical Communications, the basic research-and-development branch, which contains and manages resources such as the Unified Medical Language System and the Visible Human Datasets.

The explosion of information in recent years propelled the NCBI staff from a dozen people in 1988 to more than 200 today; and total NLM ranks are 1,000, working in buildings designed for 600, Mehnert said.

"Dr. Stead has been very helpful to us in writing persuasive documents that we can submit to the Department of Health and Human Services articulating our need for space," he said.

"The growth in the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the expansion of the NLM purview to include support of the public, in addition to health professionals, have overwhelmed existing facilities. Congress funded the necessary planning, and the plans are in hand, but we have to find construction funds," Stead said.

"Second, the NLM needs a new long-range plan," Stead said. "The NLM has the winning track record of managing collective information resources, of developing people and tools to work with information and of putting quality information in the hands of researchers, providers and patients. These capabilities are essential to visions for an evidence-based system of health care, large-scale or translational science and personalized 'omics'-based medicine. A new long range plan will provide direction to the NLM as it seeks to scale up to be part of turning such visions into reality."

Stead's father, Eugene Stead, M.D., also was on the board of regents for the NLM in the 1980s. This year the board welcomes former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who, Mehnert said, is also very persuasive and very informed about biomedical technology.

Stead's one-year term begins Sept. 21. n