National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees one of the world's foremost biomedical research centers, is a federal agency administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH's beginnings can be traced to 1887 and the establishment of a one-room Laboratory of Hygiene. NIH is oneof eight Public Health Service agencies that fall under control of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are 24 separate institutes, centers, and divisions within NIH. By 1999, the NIH budget had grown to more than $15.6 billion (from about $300 in 1887).

NIH supports research whose goal is to provide better health for everyone. NIH seeks to acquire new knowledge to "help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability, from the rarest genetic disorder to the common cold."

Besides conducting research in its own laboratories, NIH supports the research of scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions; helps train researchers; and facilitates the transfer of biomedical information to physicians, patients, and the general public.

NIH invests more than 81 percent of its budget in research and research training at more than 1,700 institutions in the United States and abroad. About 35,000 scientists receive NIH funding.

Only about 11 percent of NIH's budget funds projects conducted in the agency's own laboratories, mostly located at the main campus (consisting of 75 buildings on more than 300 acres) in Bethesda, Maryland. The Bethesda facilities include the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center (a research hospital and laboratory to allow researchers at NIH access to patients); the Children's Inn at NIH (where chronically ill children and their families live while the children are being treated and studied at NIH); the Clinical Center's Ambulatory Care Research Facility (providing additional space for laboratories and for the Center's rapidly growing outpatient programs); the Fogarty International Center (promoting international cooperation and scholarship in science); the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education (supporting a program for medical students); and the National Library of Medicine (the world'slargest medical library with a collection of more than 5 million books, journals, pamphlets, rare historical volumes and manuscripts, films, and other items).

Other facilities in the NIH network include the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which studies the adverse effects of environmental factors on human health; theNIH Animal Center in Poolesville, Maryland; the Gerontology Research Centerin Baltimore, Maryland; the Addiction Research Center of the National Institute on Drug Abuse also in Baltimore; Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton,Montana; and several smaller field stations.

To acquire NIH funding, the prospective grantee submits a research application to NIH. This application is reviewed for scientific merit by a panel of scientific experts (a process called peer review), primarily from outside the government, who are active in the biomedical sciences. A group of eminent scientists and members of the public who share an interest in health issues or thebiomedical sciences then determine the application's overall merit and priority.

Ninety-seven scientists who have received NIH support have won Nobel Prizes for their scientific achievements. Five of these Nobelists were employed in NIH's own laboratories, Drs. Christian B. Anfinsen, Julius Axelrod, D. Carleton Gajdusek, Marshall W. Nirenberg, and Martin Rodbell.

NIH funding has played an important role in reducing deaths from coronary heart disease and from stroke; in improving the detection and treatment of cancers; in reducing the extent of paralysis from spinal cord injury; in the development of vaccines that protect against infectious diseases; in developing new medications for schizophrenia; in increasing the chances for survival of infants with respiratory distress syndrome; in relieving suffering from depressive disorders; and in advancing the fields of molecular genetics and genomics.

Much of NIH-supported research focuses on such diseases and health concerns as mental disorders, infectious diseases, and chronic illnesses. Specific objectives are to improve the prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease,stroke, blindness, arthritis, diabetes, kidney diseases, Alzheimer's disease,communication disorders, mental illness, drug abuse and alcoholism, AIDS andother unconquered diseases. Efforts continue to improve the health of infants and children, women, and minorities. Other studies seek a better understanding of the aging process, and of behavior and lifestyle practices that affecthealth.

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