The entire GOLD family (Board of Directors, Science Committee, Emeriti and Assembly members) report with great sadness the passing of Claude Lenfant on June 26, 2023 in Vancouver Washington at the age of 94 years.
Dr Claude Lenfant served as Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), from July 1982 through August 2003. Prior to his appointment to the position of Director, NHLBI, Claude Lenfant was Director of the NIH Fogarty International Center (1981-1982) and Director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases (1972-1980). Upon leaving the NIH, he was granted the title of Distinguished Scientist Emeritus.
Claude Lenfant came to the NIH from the University of Washington, Seattle, where he was a Professor of Medicine and Physiology and Biophysics. He received his medical degree from the University of Paris in 1956. Claude Lenfant is the author or co-author of more than 358 publications and was the Executive Editor of the series of monographs “Lung Biology in Health and Disease,” which includes 239 volumes that he edited.
Claude Lenfant served as President of the World Hypertension League (2001-2006) and Executive Director of the Global Initiatives for Asthma (GINA) and COPD (GOLD) from 2005 to 2015. He has been recognized, nationally and internationally, for his exceptional leadership and achievements.
This is the briefest sketch that summarizes his very long-life academic career, both in the US and internationally. However, regarding the inception of GOLD there were several details that magnified his academic personality. Along with his wife, Suzan Heard, with whom he created an exceptional innovative team a third individual was incorporated, this is the late Romain Pauwels, from Belgum. The three of them work closely and hand to hand to develop the structural basis of GOLD taking great advantage of the experiences of GINA.
At this point in time, it may be more appropriate to mention two aspects that define the profound and deep academic personality of Claude Lenfant. The first one refers to his paper entitled Clinical Research to Clinical Practice — Lost in Translation? “a very comprehensive paper on his experience as leader of medical research published in the NEJM in 2003. In this paper, Claude Lenfant quotes “the Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, to recall the editors express their view that “the practice of medicine combines both science and art…. The role of science in medicine is clear.” What may be less clear is the “art” part of medicine. To the editors of Harrison’s, the art of medicine is “the combination of medical knowledge, intuition and judgment.” Today, everyone recognizes that a great deal of the “knowledge” element of this combination is there
for the taking, libraries cannot be built fast enough to keep up with modern scientific output. But moving this knowledge off the shelves and into practice, making it relevant and accessible to practitioners and patients, achieving a true marriage of knowledge with intuition and judgment — all this requires translation. And that is, indeed, a delicate and elusive art. Robert Frost, possibly one of the greatest American poets, contended that, “Poetry is what is lost in translation.” I think that we must ask ourselves whether much of the output of biomedical science is also getting lost in translation — and if it is, why it is, and what we can do about it…”
As far as GOLD is more specifically concerned, he made informally a quote not sufficiently acknowledged by the international respiratory community, but that accurately reflected his current thoughts of this initiative. He said that ’GOLD had the unique virtue of putting COPD on the top of the world’. Nothing before was said. Many legions of physicians and practitioners deserve to know this after his death. He will always be remembered for his contributions.