University of Minnesota

Claude Lenfant, MD

Born: 1928

Claude Lenfant was director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for a record 21 years, through a period of remarkable growth at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Lenfant was educated in France (University of Rennes, MD in 1948) and worked in pulmonary physiology at the University of Washington from 1962 to 1972 when he came to the direct the lung program at NHLBI.

As NHLBI director from 1982 to 2003, he effectively administered the extramural research program in heart, lung, and blood diseases and presided over the institute’s advisory councils. He was always the best prepared of all staff and members at council meetings and was skilled in corralling consensus. He supported the broad-based research program established by his predecessors in which branches and funding were directed toward all three medical disciplines: bench, clinical and epidemiological pursuits. He strengthened CVD epidemiology by establishing a Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications (DECA). He may have reduced external contributions to the Institute program by elimination of its advisory committees.

Lenfant’s heart (and biases) lay with clinical research and he established many organizational practices and procedures to control and retire the more long term and costly prevention researches such as trials and community studies. He greatly increased the intellectual involvement and career opportunities of Institute staff in epidemiological pursuits of the funded studies, defended his staff vigorously, and earned the respectful antagonism of cardiovascular disease (CVD) investigators for his centralizing controls, particularly during the lean budget periods of the 1980s and 1990s.

But Lenfant understood the strength that prevention programs gave him in dealing with Congress and “tolerated” the prevention community’s plaints of excessive control, discrimination, and tokenism with amused dispassion. For example, on the retirement of Henry Blackburn from the Institute’s Advisory Council in 1992 (there was always one token epidemiologist on his Council) he remarked, with some humor: “If Blackburn had his way, we would be called the National Institute for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention!” He was right.

In retirement Dr. Lenfant is active in international organizations concerned with hypertension and with respiratory diseases. (HB)


Marquis Who’s Who on the Web. ‘Claude Lenfant’. Available from: [Accessed 2 January 2007].

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