National Institutes of Health - Undergirding Our Health

Article excerpt

The American public has never lived in an age when one's health and/or an interest in health related matters have been more in the forefront. President Clinton's attempt to overhaul the nation's health care system during his first term in office, the Udall Parkinson's Research Act of 1997 [S 55 and HR 1260] currently before Congress, the introduction of legislation by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Sens. James Jeffords (R-VT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) took place on June 5th, activism by such well known celebrities as actor Christopher Reeve on behalf of spinal cord injury research, and former boxing great, Muhammad Ali, and his wife's commitment to furthering the cause of those with Parkinson disease, are but a few examples.

Undergirding the national commitment to health are some of the world's foremost biomedical research centers, a government agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services--the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Undoubtedly, Palaestra readers have heard of NIH at some point in their lives; however, few probably have much insight into their structure and purpose. Hopefully, this editorial will help showcase an important health agency working on behalf of all citizens.

NIH seek to uncover new knowledge that will ultimately lead to a healthier life for everyone. NIH work toward this goal by conducting research in their own laboratories, mostly located in Bethesda, Maryland, but also within the states of Arizona, Montana, and North Carolina; supporting the research of non--federal scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions; helping to train researchers; and, fostering communication of biomedical information to various groups including medical practitioners, patients, and the lay public. Better than 81% of their budget is expended through grants and contracts in support of research and research training in more than 1700 institutions--these include every major university and medical school throughout the United States and abroad. Some funding. About 11% of the NIH budget goes to fund more than 2,000 projects of their own.

Ninety-one NIH supported scientists have won Nobel Prizes for achievements as diverse as deciphering genetic coding or learning what causes hepatitis--5 of these awards went to NIH's own scientists. NIH research has played a major role in making possible many biomedical advances, including, but not limited to--

* Deaths from coronary disease dropped by 58% between 1963 and 1994; deaths from stroke decreased by 65%;

* Improved ways to detect and treat cancers; increased the relative 5-year survival rate for those with cancer to 52%; this represents a gain over the rate in the 1960s of over 80,000 survivors per year;

* The extent of paralysis from spinal cord injury can be significantly reduced by rapid treatment with high doses of a steroid;

* New or improved vaccines protect against infectious diseases once killing and/or disabling millions of children and adults. …