The longest-serving director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) announced last week that he will step down. Claude Lenfant plans to retire on 30 August, after 21 years as NHLBI's director.
Lenfant, a former heart surgeon, previously served as director of the Fogarty International Center (1981-1982) and director of the NHLBI lung division (1970-1981). In all, he has worked with seven directors of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Elias Zerhouni, the current head, issued a statement praising Lenfant as a "talented and capable administrator" and "first-class scientist" whose departure will leave "a significant loss."
Among NIH senior staff, Lenfant is known as an experienced manager who takes pride in keeping his $2.8 billion agency on an even keel. "Claude knows his institute inside and out; he has been an excellent spokesperson for his research community," says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Lenfant, 74, was on leave and could not be reached for comment. But in an earlier interview, he said "one of my best investments" was $15 million spent on training ambulance crews to treat heart attack patients more rapidly. He also was proud that the NHLBI had been first to pursue gene therapy treatments, although their initial promise hasn't panned out.
Last year, Lenfant championed a controversial study involving patients with serious respiratory problems. On 3 July, the same week that Lenfant announced his retirement, the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which monitors the use of subjects in experimental trials, released a year-long hold it had placed on the study, which involves 19 institutions and is funded by NHLBI. OHRP had been reviewing the ethical implications of the $37 million clinical trial, a test of ventilator treatments (Science, 23 May 2003, p. 1225). After OHRP's decision, investigators said they intended to resume the trial in a few months.