NIGMS Fills Key Leadership Post

Emily Carlson

September 21, 2006

photo of Dr. Lewis
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Catherine Lewis, Ph.D., takes the reins as director of the Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

Lewis will oversee more than 1,800 research and training grants totaling about $630 million that support basic studies in cell biology and biophysics by scientists across the country. The research ranges from characterizing molecules and cellular components to understanding the mechanisms of cellular processes. One of four NIGMS scientific divisions, CBB also supports the development of new research tools and methods and houses the Protein Structure Initiative (, a 10-year effort to speed the protein structure determination process.

New knowledge in cell biology and biophysics leads not only to a better understanding of fundamental life processes, but also to new clues for preventing and treating diseases.

"Cathy Lewis is both a skillful administrator and a forward-thinker who has a broad knowledge about the field and a keen sense of how it needs to advance," said NIGMS Director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D. "Under her leadership, the division will help chart exciting new courses for the nation's cell biology and biophysics research."

Lewis started her NIH career as a staff fellow in 1983 after earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Princeton University in New Jersey. She joined NIGMS six years later, initially serving as a program director in its Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology for grants related to chromosome structure and mechanics. She later took on additional responsibilities in CBB and became chief of the division's Biophysics Branch in 1997. She has served as acting director of CBB since January 2006, when former director James Cassatt, Ph.D., retired.

"The biophysical tools developed over the last 10 years have allowed us to make major discoveries about basic life processes," said Lewis. "I see a lot of opportunities to continue this new generation of discovery at the subcellular level."

Some of this progress will likely stem from a project that Lewis currently leads: an NIH Roadmap for Medical Research initiative to develop high-resolution imaging probes to capture the actions of individual molecules in living cells.

Other new CBB activities include the establishment of a repository that will make the materials generated by the PSI available to the scientific community and the formation of research centers that will study the three-dimensional details of how HIV proteins and host cellular proteins interact. 

During her NIH career, Lewis was a project officer for the Human Genetic Cell Repository, which contains nearly 10,000 well-characterized human cell lines. She has organized and chaired numerous NIGMS and NIH meetings and presents regularly at scientific conferences. Her list of honors includes two NIH Director's Awards. 


To arrange an interview with CBB Director Catherine Lewis, Ph.D., contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301.

NIGMS ( supports basic biomedical research that is the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)--The Nation's Medical Research Agency--includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit