President's Speech - Elias Zerhouni

‚ÄčPresident Peter Dorman's speech
introducing Elias Zerhouni 
June 27, 2009 

Dr. Elias Zerhouni is known worldwide as a brilliant innovator in the field of radiology, having developed imaging techniques to diagnose cancer and cardiovascular disease, broadened the scope of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and refined computerized axial tomography imaging (CAT scans) to improve cancer cell detection. His achievements in medicine are matched only by his formidable skills as an administrator. 

Born in Algeria in a small city near its western border, Zerhouni arrived in the United States in 1975 with a degree in medicine from the University of Algiers and just $300 in his pocket. In the same year, he began a long career at Johns Hopkins University as a resident in radiology, where he accomplished much of his essential research, which was to bring him well deserved recognition on a national scale. Already as an associate professor, Zerhouni was named a consultant to the Reagan White House in 1985 and, three years later, consultant to the World Health Organization as well. Rising quickly in his department, he was appointed professor of radiology and bioengineering, executive vice dean of the School of Medicine, and chair of the Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Science.

Zerhouni's significant talents in research and clinical innovations, his scientific prowess, and his administrative leadership culminated in 2002 in a six-year tenure as director of the National Institutes of Health, where his responsibilities encompassed 27 centers and institutes, more than 18,000 employees, and a budget that ballooned to $29.5 billion. His priority was always to get the health institutes under his supervision to focus "on the big problems, big issues, and big opportunities," and in this he was hugely successful. Appointments in Washington entail high levels of diplomacy exerted in numerous agencies and on both ends of the political spectrum, and it is a tribute to Zerhouni's consummate skills that he oversaw the passage by Congress of the NIH Reform Act of 2006. Moreover, he created the Roadmap for Medical Research to stimulate and facilitate more efficient research projects, advocated the active collaboration of multiple centers working together, and vastly encouraged innovation, particularly in the area of high-risk research. To encourage transparency and ethics, he banned NIH scientists from working with drug and medical device companies, and to advance his abiding concern with innovative prospects in patient health he worked to overturn the Bush administration's position on stem cell research.

Elias Zerhouni is typically modest about these far-reaching achievements, despite the accolades of his peers and the recognition accorded by numerous awards for his leadership in medicine and at the NIH. Nor is his passion for his work dimmed in any way. He recently remarked that "life sciences and their applications will be the defining challenge of the 21st century." As he told the MIT graduating class of 2004, "ninety percent of what there is to be discovered is still ahead of us."