NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

World-class scientist, mentor, friend

NHLBI Mourns Former Director Lenfant

Dr. Claude Lenfant
Dr. Claude Lenfant

Former National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Director Dr. Claude Lenfant passed away on June 26 at age 94. He was the longest-serving NHLBI director, with a tenure from 1982 to 2003.

Lenfant brought the institute into the modern era of science with landmark initiatives such as the Programs of Excellence in Molecular Biology, the Proteomics Initiative and NIH’s first gene therapy protocol. NHLBI’s focus expanded with establishment of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (1993) and oversight of the Women’s Health Initiative (1997), while continuing the commitment to heart, lung and blood disorders and blood safety.

Numerous clinical trials were conducted during Lenfant’s tenure, including the Lung Health Study, the Multi-Center Study of Hydroxyurea and the Antihypertensive and Lipid Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial. 

Lenfant was particularly interested in promoting the institute’s education programs. Throughout his time as NHLBI director, he was dedicated to balancing basic science research, implementation science, as well as patient and professional education and awareness.

Born in Paris, France, in 1928, Lenfant spent much of his childhood moving around the country. He struck out on his own at age 18 and began working in a laboratory in Hôpital Marie-Lannelongue, located in Paris. Under the mentorship of renowned cardiologists Drs. Charles Dubost and Gabriel Nahas, Lenfant worked his way up from dishwasher to head of the laboratory in less than six years.

He established himself as a promising young researcher in the United States at the University of Washington, Seattle, where he was a professor of medicine and physiology and biophysics. He joined NIH as associate director for lung programs at NHLBI in 1972. Shortly after, he was named the first director of the Division of Lung Diseases (DLD) and became institute director in 1982.

Lenfant authored or co-authored more than 350 publications. He served on the editorial boards of numerous scientific publications, including the American Journal of Physiology, American Review of Respiratory Disease, Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine and Continuing Education for Family Physicians.

Upon leaving NIH, he was granted the title of distinguished scientist emeritus. He continued his dedication to chronic disease control by serving as president of the World Hypertension League (2001-2006), executive director of the Global Initiatives for Asthma and the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease and the planning committee of the World Health Organization’s Global Alliance Against Chronic Respiratory Diseases.

Dr. James Kiley, current director of DLD, remembers Lenfant fondly. 

“I worked closely with Claude for much of my career at NIH,” Kiley said. “He was truly an inspirational leader and mentor to many. I know I can speak for the entire pulmonary community that we have lost one of the giants in pulmonary medicine and science.”

Lenfant is survived by his wife Dr. Suzanne Hurd, five children, 15 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.  

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Assistant Editor: Eric Bock (link sends e-mail)

Staff Writer: Amber Snyder (link sends e-mail)