Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will succeed Dr. Anthony Fauci as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and she will be the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold the post.
Marrazzo, a lesbian, is an expert on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and some of her research has involved pre-exposure prophylaxis, a.k.a. PrEP, and microbicides. She is also known for her research on hormonal contraception and infections of the female reproductive tract, according to a press release from the National Institutes of Health, of which NIAID is part.
“Dr. Marrazzo brings a wealth of leadership experience from leading international clinical trials and translational research, managing a complex organizational budget that includes research funding and mentoring trainees in all stages of professional development,” Dr. Lawrence A. Tabak, acting NIH director, said in the release.
Fauci, famed for his role in fighting HIV and for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, retired in December after leading NIAID since 1984. Dr. Hugh Auchincloss Jr. has been acting director of NIAID since then. Marrazzo is expected to begin her duties in the fall.
Marrazzo appeared frequently in the media as an expert on COVID as well, and fellow scientists say she brings wide and deep experience to her new post. “I think what’s remarkable about her is not that she’s known in a singular area, but that she’s broadly respected in a broad range of areas,” Sharon Hillier, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, told NPR. Hillier added, “She’s known as an exquisite clinician. She’s known as an exquisite teacher.”
NIAID conducts and supports research to better understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases, making annual grants of more than $6 billion. Marrazzo’s expertise in STIs is leading to hopes that more research will be directed at them.
“For STIs, we need better therapeutics, vaccines, and point-of-care diagnostics,” David Harvey, director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told Vox. “These are all things that Dr. Marrazzo happens to be an absolute expert at, and we’re very excited and hopeful that more resources will be put into these priorities.”
Marrazzo’s work includes a study of how stigma affected HIV prevention efforts among African women, Vox notes.
PrEP4All, which seeks to assure that HIV medication is available to all those who need it, likewise praised Marrazzo’s appointment. “At a time where infectious disease threats are on the rise globally and preventive and sexual health has come under attack for women and LGBTQ communities around the world, Dr. Marrazzo’s demonstrated commitment to addressing HIV and STIs in marginalized populations will be of enormous value in ensuring that the research needs of vulnerable communities are met,” says a press release from the organization.
Colleagues have also lauded Marrazzo as an effective communicator and someone who, while serious about her work, knows how to have fun. Jennifer Balkus, an epidemiologist at the Seattle-King County public health department, told NPR that at a conference she and Marrazzo attend each year, “Part of the meeting culminates in a gala dance, and Jeannie is always, always on the dance floor.”
Before joining the University of Alabama, Marrazzo was a professor at the University of Washington. She grew up in Pennsylvania, did her undergraduate studies at Harvard University, and went to medical school at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.