The National Institutes of Health (NIH), through its own research and the distribution of grants, seeks to understand disease inside and out. Part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is the government's main medical research entity. It comprises 27 institutes and centers covering every medical discipline, from general medical sciences to alternative therapies. The organization has some 6,000 scientists of its own and gives out thousands of grants to researchers at more than 3,000 universities, hospitals, and research labs in all 50 states. Among its vast array of projects, NIH has supported efforts to develop an AIDS vaccine, map human genetic variation, and study avian flu.
NIH also conducts scientific training programs for researchers, as well as public outreach programs seeking to engage and educate US citizens on public health issues. Its research programs link scientists with community organizations to ensure that research programs are working to meet the prominent health care needs of communities throughout the US. The organization also encourages small businesses to get into the research game through the HHS Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
The NIH invests more than $30 billion each year in medical research. Its primary goals are to foster innovative research strategies and their applications as a basis for ultimately protecting and improving the nation's health and expand the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences. Its largest areas of research funding include aging, biotechnology and bioengineering, cardiovascular care, cancer, diabetes, genetics, infectious disease, mental health, neurology, pediatrics, substance abuse, vaccines, and women's health.
NIH spends 80% of its annual budget on external research grants to some 300,000 researchers at institutions across the US, as well as international locations. The remainder is spent on its internal programs, conducted through its Intramural Research Laboratories. Most of the IRL's work is conducted at NIH's 300-acre main campus in Bethesda, Maryland, which includes the facilities of the NIH Clinical Center, the largest clinical research-dedicated hospital in the world.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the NIH was focused on the improvement of diabetes treatments, the prevention of obesity, and the delivery of improved therapies to patients with rare blood cancers. It also conducted research on climate change to determine which populations are more susceptible to diseases caused by the weather change.
The history of the NIH began in an agency created by the federal government to check ship passengers coming into the country for signs of cholera and yellow fever. The NIH's predecessor, known as the Laboratory of Hygiene, used newfangled bacteriological methods to study infectious diseases in service of the public health.
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