NIMHD Mourns Scientific Director Coleman

Dr. William Coleman

Dr. William G. Coleman Jr., distinguished member of the scientific community, died of cancer on Monday, August 18 at the age of 72. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Coleman held a B.S. from Talladega College, an M.S. in microbial physiology from Atlanta University, and a Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics from Purdue University. Following a year as a lecturer and postdoc in the Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University, he began a nearly 40-year career at NIH. In 1974, Coleman began postdoctoral training in the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology at NIDDK, and soon earned tenure as a research microbiologist in the same laboratory in 1978. His research included substantial work on the biosynthesis of lipopolysaccharide and more recently on the innate and adaptive immune response to Helicobacter pylori infection. H. pylori , a type of bacteria that causes infection in the stomach, is associated with gastritis, ulcers and gastric cancers, which affect millions of Americans and is more common among Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic blacks.

“Dr. Coleman’s contributions to science are far-reaching,” said NIMHD acting director Dr. Yvonne Maddox. “People who have never met Bill Coleman will benefit from his work, particularly in the field of infectious diseases, which present great challenges to public health.”

Recognized for his scientific leadership and acumen, Coleman received many honors, including the Philip J. Browning Scientific Pioneers Award and the Inventor’s Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was recently selected for the Purdue University Department of Biological Sciences Outstanding Alumnus Award.

Coleman became the first permanent African-American scientific director in the history of the NIH Intramural Research Program in January 2011 when he was appointed to direct the NIMHD Intramural Research Program. He was responsible for directing NIMHD’s trans-disciplinary portfolio focusing primarily on the biological and non-biological determinants of health disparities. Under his leadership, the intramural program has focused on three scientific research areas for which there are significant health disparities: cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Coleman was known for his belief in the power of mentorship, and dedicated himself to mentoring and training future scientists, from school-age through postdoc, particularly in the area of disparities research. Many of his former mentees have gone on to become successful researchers, physicians, and educators. “Dr. Coleman leaves a legacy as a well-respected scientist and teacher: colleagues around NIH have expressed their admiration and sincerest regard for the dedicated researcher with an irrepressible sense of humor and optimism,” said Dr. Maddox.

Dr. Coleman is survived by his wife of 40 years, Dr. Belinda Seto and his three daughters Melissa, Alicia, and Natasha Coleman.