Stephen E. Straus, 60; Led NIH's Center for Alternative Medicine

Stephen E. Straus worked on illnesses including chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease and HIV/AIDS.
Stephen E. Straus worked on illnesses including chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease and HIV/AIDS. (Courtesy Of The National Institutes Of Health)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 2, 2007

Stephen E. Straus, 60, the first director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, died of brain cancer May 14 at his home in Potomac.

In a broad-ranging medical research career, Dr. Straus worked on many illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, chronic hepatitis B virus and genital herpes infections and chronic post-herpetic pain. He was the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of acyclovir for treatment of herpes infections, and he led the research team that discovered autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome, a debilitating congenital neurological disease that strikes children, raising their risk for developing lymphoma.

Dr. Straus was also one of a nationwide team of five clinical virologists that showed that a vaccine was effective in preventing shingles in older adults; this vaccine was subsequently approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

His experience treating patients with serious chronic conditions who were unsatisfied with results of conventional medicine sparked his interest in alternative medicine.

Under his leadership of NCCAM from 1999 to 2006, NIH research into the area grew threefold, and "CAM science began to evolve beyond the advocacy and skepticism and polarization it once engendered to earned legitimacy as a research area to help improve public health . . . including mind-body medicine, biologically based and manipulative practices and energy medicines," his NIH biography said.

Dr. Straus most recently was senior adviser to NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, who said in an e-mail to the staff that Dr. Straus's "success stemmed from the fact that he understood that the commitment to help patients had to be constantly evolving in order to meet their needs."

Dr. Straus, a New York native, graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 1972 received a medical degree from Columbia University. He was board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases.

From his youth, he expressed an impassioned interest in science, because, as he said upon stepping down as NCCAM director, "I believed that science could reveal truths about ourselves and our place in the universe."

He first came to Washington in 1973 as a research associate in the Laboratory of the Biology of Viruses at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, after completing his internship at Barnes hospital in St. Louis. In 1975, he returned to St. Louis to complete his residency, and he then did a fellowship in infectious diseases at Washington University. Dr. Straus returned to Washington in 1979, joining NIAID as a senior investigator and later heading the medical virology section of the Laboratory of Clinical Investigation.

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci called Dr. Straus "a superb physician-scientist who constantly sought new answers to improve the health of patients. Steve also was one of the kindest and most compassionate clinicians I have known and served as a mentor for many young investigators who have become extraordinary physician-scientists in their own right."

Dr. Straus, who published more than 400 original research articles and edited several books, was a member of the NIH Steering Committee and served as chairman of several committees that were part of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, focusing on advancing clinical research. An NIH report outlining the career pathways for clinical investigators in the intramural research program was named for him.

Except for his internship, Dr. Straus served in the Public Health Service from 1973 to 2000, when he retired. The Public Health Service awarded him its Distinguished Service Medal for innovative clinical research in 1998, its Meritorious Service Medal in 1990 and its Outstanding Service Medal in 1987. He also received two Department of Health and Human Services secretary's awards for distinguished service, in 1998 and 2006.

Two days before his death, Dr. Straus was awarded the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Medicine, the highest alumni honor bestowed by the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2005, he received the Enders Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

He was elected to the Association of American Physicians, the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, of which he was elected a fellow in 1986.

Survivors include his wife, Barbara E. Straus of Potomac; three children, Kate S. Straus of Boston, Julie Straus of Washington and Benjamin D. Straus of Portland, Ore.; his mother, Dora B. Straus of Westchester County, N.Y.; a sister; and a brother.

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