As chief of the National Institutes of Health, Elias Zerhouni shapes the direction of medical research and wields the power to influence the health of Americans. Appointed by President Bush, Zerhouni stepped into the role of NIH director in May 2002, as the NIH neared completion of a doubling of its budget that spanned five years.
Now overseeing 27 institutes and centers with more than 17,000 employees and a fiscal 2006 budget of $28.6 billion, Zerhouni, a radiologist who had been executive vice dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine before his appointment as NIH chief, has said that the most pressing challenges facing the nation’s health are acute and chronic conditions; the aging of the population; potential pandemics such as the avian flu;
health disparities because of race; and bio-terrorism preparedness.
With his Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research, he has focused national attention on a problem that holds the potential to save the country billions of dollars on healthcare and achieve dramatic improvements in the public's health. The plan sets forth and aggressive agenda for behavioral, environmental, genetic and biological research in the causes of obesity, which now affects an estimated 65% of adults.
Zerhouni, 55, has also made neuroscience a top priority by backing the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint developed by NIH directors to accelerate research on mental illness, neurological disorders and behavioral disorders, which combined cost the country $500 billion each year, according to NIH estimates.