The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is composed of 27 different Institutes and Centers, each dedicated to specific research fields. From those 27 components, 24 receive direct funding from the The United States Congress and self-administrate their own budgets. As an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is the in charge of biomedical and health-related research and is positioned as the main agency of the US government in those fields of expertise.
Bethesda (Maryland, USA) hosts the headquarters for the Directors Office and the Institutes and Centers that belong to the NIH, in over 300 acres of campus with more than 75 NIH buildings. Since research is its the primary activity, the campus has laboratory facilities equipped with state-of-the-art equipment where some investigation and research takes place. Even so, it’s estimated that more than 80% of the NIH research studies are performed by experts sited all over the United States and around the globe.
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The National Institutes of Health list of institutes and centers
The following is a complete list of the institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health in the United States:
- National Cancer Institute
- National Eye Institute
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- National Human Genome Research Institute
- National Institute on Aging
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
- National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
- National Institute of General Medical Sciences
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- National Institute of Nursing Research
- National Library of Medicine
- Center for Information Technology
- Center for Scientific Review
- Fogarty International Center
- National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- NIH Clinical Center
Every year, the National Institutes of Health’s investment in medical research exceeds $30.9 billion dollars. Approximately 10% of the NIH’s funding is used for intramural research: projects developed inside in its own facilities by nearly 6,000 scientists, mostly at the Bethesda campus.
80% of the National Institutes of Health remaining budget is spent in extramural research: grants attributed to scientists and researchers who work outside the institution. There are almost 50,000 grants to over 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 institutions, such as universities, medical schools, or research institutes, all of which cover a wide range of research topics.
National Institutes of Health in the 19th century
The National Institutes of Health took its first steps in 1887, as a single laboratory at the Marine Hospital Service (MHS), predecessor agency to the U.S. Public Health Service.
Created in 1798, the MHS aimed to provide medical care of merchant seamen. Every month, a worker from the Treasury Department collected twenty cents from the salaries of each seaman, money that would be used to cover medical costs at some hospitals. Later, in the 1880s, the Marine Hospital Service was convoked by the US Congress to examine passengers arriving by sea for clinical signs of infectious diseases. At that time, diseases like yellow fever, known historically as Yellow Jack, and cholera were the most feared so preventing epidemics was a major priority.
The NIH main discoveries and achievements
More than eighty Nobel prizes have been awarded for research supported by NIH. Five of those Nobel prize winners were investigators working on NIH intramural projects that led to notable discoveries, such as decrypting the genetic code that rules all life processes, evidencing how chemicals act to conduct electrical signals between nerve cells, and unfolding the connection between proteins’ chemical composition of and the way they fold into biologically active conformations. Such findings have allowed a clearer understanding of genetically-based diseases and facilitated the making of more effective medication.
The National Institutes of Health continues to play a central role in funding and shaping the most critical research related to biotech and the life sciences in the world today.