Bethesda, Maryland — Ting-Kai Li, M.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) since November 2002, announced today that he will step down from his post and retire from Federal service, effective October 31, 2008.   Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., the NIAAA Deputy Director since February 2008, will serve as Acting Director of the Institute while a search for a new Director is initiated.

“I leave NIAAA/NIH feeling that my tenure has resulted in greater transparency, accountability, trust, and stability of funding for alcohol research.   Research supported by NIAAA in the past 5 years has reframed our understanding of alcohol dependence in several ways by demonstrating that it is a developmental disorder that has its roots in childhood and adolescence.   While initiation of drinking is largely influenced by peer and family environmental factors, the transition to habitual and dependent drinking is strongly influenced by genetic factors.   This has important prevention and treatment implications.”

During Dr. Li’s tenure, NIAAA issued a rolling 5-year strategic plan for NIAAA; provided administrative leadership to achieve stability in NIAAA’s success rate for research grants; increased support for new investigators; engaged the NIAAA in the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research; emphasized a multi- and transdisciplinary approach to alcohol research and the study of gene-environment interactions.   Finally, he guided the analysis of data showing that measures of an individual’s pattern of drinking are the best indicators of alcohol problems, in much the same way that numerical measurements of blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides relate to relative risk for cardiovascular disease.

“T.-K. Li’s long-term contributions and commitment to alcohol research - both nationally and internationally - are reflected in the tremendous progress that has been made in our understanding of alcohol use disorders and their consequences from infancy to older adulthood,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. 

Dr. Li has been at the center of advances that have transformed both the way alcoholism is understood and the means of investigating alcohol's effects on the body and brain.  A major focus of his Dr. Li's research has been to characterize the structure and dynamics of the multiple genetic variants of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the enzyme that catalyzes the first step in the metabolism of ethanol and the differences among individuals in the physiology of these enzymes.  Dr. Li also pioneered the development of animal models in which marked differences in the level of voluntary alcohol consumption could be observed, paralleling the same inborn variation seen in human behavior. 

Born in Nanjing, China, Dr. Li earned his undergraduate degree from NorthwesternUniversity, his M.D. from HarvardUniversity.   Dr. Li joined the faculty at IndianaUniversity as professor of medicine and biochemistry in 1971.  He subsequently was named the school's John B. Hickam Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and later Distinguished Professor of Medicine.  In 1985, he became director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center (IARC) at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where he also was the Associate Dean for Research.