Monica Bertagnolli, M.D., takes the helm at NIH

Nov. 10, 2023
17th director of the National Institutes of Health.

Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D., started as the 17th director of the National Institutes of Health.

She is the first surgeon and the second woman to hold the position. Nominated by President Biden, Dr. Bertagnolli was confirmed on a bipartisan basis by the U.S. Senate on November 7. She transitioned from her role as the 16th director of the National Cancer Institute, a position she has held since October 2022. NCI Principal Deputy Director Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., will serve as the NCI acting director until President Biden appoints a new director.

Growing up in rural Wyoming, Dr. Bertagnolli experienced and saw firsthand the challenges faced by rural communities to access medical care and participate in medical research. Due to that lived experience, equity is a core value that drives all her efforts, which includes ensuring NIH research is equitable and accessible to all people from all walks of life regardless of income or zip code.

Chief among her key priorities is ensuring clinical trials yield the best results by increasing the diversity of participants; embracing the rapid expansion of new learning-based analytical tools and ensuring their use improves care for all people; and restoring trust in science by making it accessible to all communities and inspiring the next generation of doctors and scientists. Dr. Bertagnolli also is committed to leveraging commonalities across all diseases — from biology to accessing care — to strengthen collaboration across the 27 NIH institutes and centers.

As NCI Director, Dr. Bertagnolli initiated efforts to expand and modernize cancer clinical trials to increase the number of people who can participate in NCI-supported research. Under her leadership, NCI released the National Cancer Plan to galvanize communities to set specific goals to prevent cancer, reduce deaths from cancer and provide the best possible quality of life for people living with cancer.

Dr. Bertagnolli replaces Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.

Dr. Bertagnolli has been a cancer surgeon for more than 35 years. Before joining NCI, she specialized in treating and researching gastrointestinal cancers in her roles as the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment and Sarcoma Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, all in Boston.

Dr. Bertagnolli’s research has advanced the current understanding of the gene mutation that promotes gastrointestinal cancer development and the role of inflammation as a driver of cancer growth. She also has worked to increase responsible access and sharing of cancer clinical trial data among researchers and has promoted the inclusion of rural communities in clinical studies. She is a past president and chair of the board of directors of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and has served on the board of directors of the American Cancer Society and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2021. 

Dr. Bertagnolli graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and went on to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She trained in surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and was a research fellow in tumor immunology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

NIH release