Washington Post Profiles New NIH Director Zerhouni
The Washington Post today profiles new NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, who after five months in the position has begun to discuss his "scientific and political priorities," such as the future of the agency and his position on embryonic stem cell research. Zerhouni said that his "top priority is to give the NIH a renewed sense of mission" after a two-year period without a permanent director. Zerhouni said that he plans to review NIH's organizational structure and the agency's relationship with HHS. On the issue of embryonic stem cell research, Zerhouni said he supports the policy President Bush announced last year that allows federal funding for research on a limited number of stem cell colonies. "I want to make sure we advance the field ... all within the guidelines of the president's policy," he added. Although some scientists have criticized the policy as "scientifically stifling," Zerhouni said that stem cell research "is still in its earliest stages" and that "a lot can be done" with the federal funds available under Bush's policy, the Post reports. He did not predict whether Bush would expand the policy in the future but said that "it is scientists' responsibility to prove the need," the Post reports. He added, "Science is science. We have to bring the facts to the table. Here's the policy, and we're going to make an honest effort to put taxpayers' dollars to work to make the most of the science."
Zerhouni said that the expanded role of NIH in bioterrorism research has led to "new strains" for the agency. For example, NIH has implemented new security measures at the agency's Bethesda, Md., campus, which in the past has operated "more like an academic institution than a government agency or military compound," the Post reports. Zerhouni said that he has sought the "right balance" between openness and security. Although he supports restrictions on the distribution of some biomedical research materials, such as some infectious agents, he has "expressed some discomfort" with restrictions on the publication of scientific information that has uses for both medical science and terrorism. "My personal bias is that information is something that advances the field. You don't want to discourage the best and brightest," he said (Weiss, Washington Post, 10/23).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.