ciDirector's Comments: Daniel A. Casciano, Ph.D.
I guess my tenure as Director was more accidental than intended because I decided only after I was Acting Director for seven months that I wanted to lead this institute. I initially was interested in the Deputy Director for Research position because I felt that I could influence the use of molecular tools in the various toxicological disciplines that make up this Center, and because I felt that I had accomplished the goals I had set as Director of the Division of Genetic and Reproductive Toxicology. Little did I know that Bern Schwetz would leave one month after I was selected in that position. Jane Henney was the Commissioner at that time, and she required that principals be present at the weekly headquarters staff meetings. Consequently, for approximately two years, I was traveling to Parklawn weekly, representing the NCTR, and becoming familiar with the mission of the FDA and the rest of the centers. These interactions were extremely valuable because I was able to determine the future scientific directions that the NCTR should be engaged in to support these missions. Additionally, I had the great pleasure of working with some highly skilled and dedicated individuals whose prime motivation was promoting and protecting the public health. This dedication became more evident after September 11, 2001. The entire leadership of the Agency came together to convert chaos into order.
It was essential for us to integrate the new technologies with the traditional toxicological tools we had been developing and validating mainly for preclinical studies. It became evident to me that these emerging technologies finally provided us with the means to determine the relevance of the rodent surrogate bioassays we had been using because they were applicable to evaluating the human. I felt if these surrogates were not as predictive as we’d like, these new tools would help guide us in the development of new surrogates. We finally could become major players in understanding toxicology in humans and assist the FDA in designing more meaningful clinical studies. To accomplish this, we needed to build an infrastructure that could support the development of methodology in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics. Using supplemental funds, the infrastructure was developed and recruitment of trained staff was begun. We were extremely fortunate to be able to recruit highly talented individuals to lead in these specific areas. This was due to our international reputation in the toxicological community and the infrastructure we had in place. In order to be successful, we needed a strong computer science and informatics staff to help us translate the myriads of data produced using these technologies into biological significance. Fortunately we had statisticians in Biometry interested in the challenge, and we had in place a skilled computational science staff that were well hidden under the veil of the Endocrine Disruptor Knowledge Base. I think that the most important contribution of my administrative career, in my opinion, was the recognition that systems toxicology was the next discipline that needed to be integrated into the fabric of the NCTR.