WASHINGTON, D.C.--In a packed East Room ceremony, President George W. Bush today formally revealed his pick to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As expected, it is radiologist Elias Zerhouni, executive vice dean and chair of radiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he has spent most of the past 27 years.
Zerhouni is well respected in his field and known for an entrepreneurial bent, having invented a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique and cofounded a company to develop it (Science, 15 March, p.1988.
Noting that NIH is slated for a $27.3 billion budget in 2003--double what it received 5 years ago--Bush said Zerhouni is "well prepared to manage this rapidly growing institution during times of great new opportunity and urgent biodefense needs." The president also referred indirectly to the stem cell debate, saying that Zerhouni "shares my view that human life is precious and should not be exploited or destroyed for the benefits of others." Media reports have said that Zerhouni passed a political "litmus test," promising that he would oppose research on human embryonic stem cells beyond lines that Bush approved last August.
Zerhouni himself made no reference to that debate, indicating that as an immigrant from Algeria 27 years ago, he "could never have dreamed of" being chosen to head NIH, which he called "the driving force behind our nation's preeminence in the biomedical sciences."
Bush also announced his pick for U.S. Surgeon General: Richard Carmona, a trauma surgeon and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He will focus on responding to bioterrorism threats, getting Americans to improve their diets and exercise, and combating drug and alcohol abuse.
Both nominations must now be confirmed by the Senate, which is likely to question Zerhouni's views on stem cell research. Although many biomedical scientists share those concerns, they nevertheless welcome the announcement of a leader for NIH, which has been led by acting director Ruth Kirschstein for more than 2 years. Former NIH director Harold Varmus, now head of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, said after the ceremony that Zerhouni is "a very high quality guy."