Ronald E. Scantlebury, 79, a former official dealing with research fellowships and grants at the National Institutes of Health and the State Department, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at the Herman M. Wilson Health Care Center, Asbury Methodist Village, in Gaithersburg. He lived in the village.

A physiologist, Dr. Scantlebury joined NIH in 1949 as executive secretary of the physiology study section. Two years later, he became chief of the research fellowship branch.

With a new section on foreign grants and awards was established in the office of the NIH director in 1958, Dr. Scantlebury was named chief of the section.

In 1961, he was assigned to the State Department as biomedical science officer in the international science and technical affairs unit there. He retired in 1971.

While at NIH, Dr. Scantlebury was chairman from 1952 to 1959 of the board of U.S. civil service examiners there. He also was on the committee on science and technology of the U.S. Civil Service Commission.

At the State Department, he acted as liaison policy officer for government agencies proposing to carry on research in foreign countries.

Dr. Scantlebury was executive secretary of the U.S. delegation on the policy committee of the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Medical Science Program from 1965 to 1971.

He was born in Hampton, Iowa. He graduated from Cornell College in Iowa, earned a master's degree from Wayne State University in Michigan and got his doctorate from the University of Michigan.

He taught physiology and pharmacology in the medical school of Wayne State and the University of Arkansas. He was chairman of the section on applied biology at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., before coming here.

Dr. Scantlebury was a member of the American Physiology Society, the Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Society of Medicine in London.He belonged to Grace United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg.

He is survived by his wife, the former Helen Knight, of Asbury Methodist Village; two brothers, Clay, of Hampton, Iowa, and Clifford V., of Erie, Pa., and two sisters, Bernice Scantlebury, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Hazel Lane, of Coarsegold, Calif.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Herman M. Wilson Health Care Center.