A native of Algeria, Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni has served as director of the National Institutes of Health since May 2002. Zerhouni was born in Algeria and came to the United States at age 24, having earned his medical degree at the University of Algiers School of Medicine in 1975.
After completing his residency in diagnostic radiology at Johns Hopkins in 1978 as chief resident, he served as assistant professor in 1979 and associate professor in 1985. Between 1981 and 1985, Zerhouni was in the department of radiology at Eastern Virginia Medical School and its affiliated DePaul Hospital.
In 1988, Zerhouni returned to Johns Hopkins, where he was appointed director of the MRI division and then was appointed full professor in 1992, becoming the chairman of the radiology department in January 1996. He later became vice dean for research at Johns Hopkins, chair of the Russell H. Morgan department of radiology and radiological science and executive vice-dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine,
Zerhouni is credited with developing imaging methods used for diagnosing cancer and cardiovascular disease. He pioneered magnetic tagging, a non-invasive method of using MRI to track the motions of a heart in three dimensions. He is also renowned for refining an imaging technique called computed tomographic (CT) densitometry that helps discriminate between non-cancerous and cancerous nodules in the lung.
Zerhouni’s political affiliations include working as a consultant to the White House under President Ronald Reagan and to the World Health Organization in 1988. Since 2000, he has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. He served on the National Cancer Institute’s Board of Scientific Advisors from 1998-2002.
While leading NIH, Zerhouni has not been afraid to take public stances that placed him in opposition to President George W. Bush, who nominated him. In July 2006, Zerhouni joined 36 other prominent Arab Americans in calling for a cease fire in the Middle East. The proclamation ran as a half-page ad in the Washington Post by the Arab-American Institute Foundation. The ad called upon “all those in power to stop the violence” through a cease-fire so that “reconciliation and reconstruction” efforts can begin. Zerhouni lent his name to the ad but left off his NIH title.
The following year, Zerhouni went even farther out on a limb when he publicly announced his support for expanded federal research involving stem cells. That view put Zerhouni at odds with his boss, President Bush, who twice had vetoed legislation that sought to expand research on new embryonic lines. Some observers wondered if Zerhouni was likely to be forced out at NIH for his remarks but nothing happened.