Lindsey Criswell Named Director of National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

By Jason Alvarez

Lindsey Criswell portrait

Lindsey A. Criswell, MD, MPH, DSc

Lindsey A. Criswell, MD, MPH, DSc, vice chancellor of research at UC San Francisco, has been selected as the next director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), one of 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She will assume the role in early 2021.

“Having dedicated much of my career to studying and treating autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, I am tremendously honored to serve as director of NIAMS,” said Criswell, professor of medicine in the School of Medicine, professor of orofacial sciences in the School of Dentistry and co-director of the UCSF Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute.

As NIAMS director, Criswell will oversee a federal institution with an annual budget of nearly $625 million and a mission to support scientific research, training and career development in the fields of rheumatology, muscle biology, orthopedics, bone and mineral metabolism, and dermatology, among others. Criswell was selected by NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and will succeed Robert H. Carter, MD, who has served as acting NIAMS director since 2018 after long-time director Stephen I. Katz, MD, PhD, passed away unexpectedly in December 2018.

“Dr. Criswell has rich experience as a clinician, researcher and administrator. Her ability to oversee the research program of one of the country’s top research-intensive medical schools, and her expertise in autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, make her well-positioned to direct NIAMS,” said Collins. “I look forward to having her join the NIH leadership team early next year.”

Criswell will join NIAMS after having spent nearly the entirety of her career at UCSF. She arrived at UCSF in 1982 to pursue her medical education, and received her MD from the School of Medicine in 1986. After completing an internship and residency in Southern California, she rejoined UCSF in 1989 to begin a fellowship in rheumatology. She has been at the University ever since. Criswell was made full professor in 2007 and has served as vice chancellor of research since 2017.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lindsey for nearly four decades. She has distinguished herself as one of UCSF’s most accomplished clinician-scientists, as well as a devoted mentor and skillful administrator. Her incredible character and her talent as a leader make her an excellent choice for NIAMS director,” said Dan Lowenstein, MD, executive vice chancellor and provost at UCSF.

In her role as vice chancellor of research, Criswell has helped define UCSF’s overall research priorities and goals, and has also overseen research infrastructure, with a view to ensuring seamless and superior service to researchers across the University. As a scientist and clinician, Criswell has worked to understand and treat autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, with a particular focus on the genetics, epigenetics and epidemiology of these diseases. She has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and her efforts have contributed to the identification of more than 30 genes linked to these and other autoimmune disorders. Criswell is also a dedicated educator, who has trained and mentored dozens of students, medical residents, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty.

“Lindsey’s contributions to science have been tremendous,” said Talmadge E. King Jr., MD, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor for medical affairs. “Her efforts have led to significant advances in our understanding of the underlying causes of and potential treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other debilitating autoimmune disorders. Her influence can also be seen in the many talented young scientists and clinicians whom she has trained, and who are now establishing themselves as leaders in the field, thanks in large part to Lindsey’s mentorship.”

Criswell has received many awards and honors, including the 2014 Resident Clinical and Translational Research Mentor of the Year; a Kirkland Scholar Award from the Mary Kirkland Center for Lupus Research; the Henry Kunkel Young Investigator Award from the American College of Rheumatology; a UCSF Faculty Development Award; and a Pfizer Scholars Award.

Criswell joins the ranks of other distinguished UCSF faculty who have served in leadership roles with the NIH. Eliseo Perez-Stable, MD, was a professor of medicine, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and director of the Center for Aging in Diverse Communities (CADC) before assuming his current role as director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). Zach Hall, PhD, joined UCSF in 1976 and remained on the faculty until appointed director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) in 1994. Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, MD, was a UCSF faculty member for two decades before being appointed NIH director in 1993, and later serving as director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Criswell earned her bachelor’s degree in genetics and her master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley. She later received a DSc in genetic epidemiology from the Netherlands Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Rotterdam. Criswell is board certified in internal medicine and as a wilderness medicine first responder. Upon leaving UCSF, Criswell will be granted emeritus status.