Zerhouni announces resignation as research chief

November 1, 2008

Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, the first boardcertifiedradiologist to direct the U.S.National Institutes of Health, hasannounced that he will resign as chiefof the giant medical research agency atthe end of October 2008.

Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, the first boardcertified radiologist to direct the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has announced that he will resign as chief of the giant medical research agency at the end of October 2008.

In a written announcement, Zerhouni mentioned a desire to pursue writing projects and to explore other professional opportunities.

Zerhouni was radiology director at John Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, in May 2002 when he was appointed to lead the NIH by President George W. Bush. Zerhouni has been a regular speaker at European conferences, and he receieved a Special Presidential Award at ECR 2007.

As part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH is the nation's premiere biomedical research agency. It has more than 18,000 employees and a fiscal year 2008 budget of $29.5 billion. It supports more than 325,000 research personnel at more than 3100 institutions in the U.S. and around the world.

Zerhouni led the NIH during a period of unprecedented growth, scientific discovery, and political controversy. Federal funding for its 27 institutes and centers grew rapidly in his early years. The expansion included the creation in 2002 of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

The completion of the Human Genome Project influenced Zerhouni's creation of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. Launched in 2003, the Roadmap brought together all of the NIH's 27 institutes and centers to fund compelling research initiatives that could have a major impact on science but that no single institute could tackle alone.

The NIH Roadmap inspired the molecular medicine movement based on the discovery and exploitation of biomarkers that signal a person's genetic susceptibility to diseases and their onset. A corresponding movement for molecular imaging laid the basis for future diagnostic imaging technologies. As NIH chief appointed by an antiabortion president, Zerhouni enforced Bush's ban against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research while supporting related initiatives that capitalized on the enormous scientific opportunities of recombinant DNA technologies.

"I have had the privilege of leading one of the greatest institutions in the world for six and a half years," Zerhouni said in a written statement. "Its strength comes from the extraordinary commitment and excellence of its people in serving a noble mission. It also comes from the nation's scientific community, whose discoveries alleviate the suffering of patients throughout the world."

-By James Brice