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Stephen E. Straus 1946-2007

Stephen E. Straus, MD, the first director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), died of brain cancer on May 14, 2007, in Potomac, MD.1 He was 60 years old. According to many friends and colleagues, he left behind a long tradition of unwavering devotion to his patients and great advances in the treatment of herpes, shingles, hepatitis B, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and AIDS.

“His 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,” said Elias A. Zerhouni, MD, NIH director, in a recent press release.1 “The NIH has lost a great leader and an outstanding scientist. Most of all, we have lost a dear friend.”

Dr. Straus was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1946. He received a bachelor’s degree in life sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968, an MD from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1972, and soon after completed a fellowship in infectious diseases at Washington University.

His research in chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, AIDS, and genital and oral herpes have paved the way for other scientists in these fields.1 However, his most earth-shattering endeavor involved his contribution to the development of a vaccine for the virus varicella-zoster, which causes chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster). This vaccine, targeted for people over 60, has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is estimated to prevent half a million cases of shingles in older Americans yearly.2

As the first director of NCCAM, Dr. Straus helped to initiate important scientific research into the efficacy of CAM modalities.3 Research at NIH into CAM grew threefold during Straus’ term of leadership, from 1999-2006. Furthermore, NCCAM supported more than 1500 projects in research, training, and career development at over 260 US institutions during Straus’ directorship.

Dr. Straus also contributed to the medical community through lectures, medical textbooks, and over 400 original research articles. However, he was most commended by friends and colleagues for his strong interest in the welfare of his patients.

“He was a superb bench scientist as well as a clinician and clinical researcher,” said Ruth L. Kirschstein, MD, who was appointed NCCAM acting director in his place. Dr. Kirschstein expressed that she always admired his “deep concern” for his patients and his integrity and devotion to science (e-mail, May 30, 2007).

“Dr. Straus was a superb physician-scientist who constantly sought new answers to improve the health of patients,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in an NCCAM press release.1 “Steve also was one of the kindest and most compassionate clinicians I have known.”

Dr. Straus stepped down from his leadership role at NCCAM last November due to his illness.3 In an article published in HerbalGram issue 74, several of Dr. Straus’ colleagues and associates praised his influential career at NCCAM and his contributions to the study and validation of CAM modalities.

Dr. Straus is survived by his wife Barbara, his daughters Kate and Julie, his son Benjamin, his mother Dora, his sister Miriam, and his brother Marc. Many reflections on Dr. Straus and his work have been posted and may be accessed on John Weeks’ Integrator Blog.4

—Kelly E. Saxton
  1. In Memoriam: Stephen E. Straus, MD [press release]. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; May 15, 2007.

  2. Dr. Straus steps down as NCCAM director. CAM at the NIH. 2006;13(3). Available at: htm. Accessed May 30, 2007.

  3. Cavaliere C. Stephen Straus steps down as NCCAM’s first director. HerbalGram. 2007;No. 74:15.

  4. Weeks J. Invited voices on the legacy of Stephen Straus, MD, NIH NCCAM director, 1947-2007. The Integrator Blog. May 22, 2007. Available at: Accessed June 6, 2007.