Originally named the Hygienic Laboratory, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was founded by Joseph J. Kinyoun of the Marine Hospital Service (MHS) in 1887. From humble beginnings, this one-room laboratory relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1891, and a new building was constructed in 1901. The NIH’s founding legislation was unceremoniously part of an appropriations act approving the $35,000 building for the laboratory to investigate “infectious and contagious diseases and matters pertaining to the public health.” They Hygienic Laboratory was restructured and granted funding in 1902, and remained at the first official building until 1941.
The Biologics Control Act of 1902 authorized the Hygienic Laboratory with regulating the production of vaccines and antitoxins after several children died in 1901 following injection with contaminated diphtheria antitoxin. It was not until 1972 that regulation of biologics was transferred to the FDA’s jurisdiction. In 1912 the Hygienic Laboratory was authorized to also conduct research in non-contagious diseases and water pollution.
The Ransdell Act of 1930 officially changed the organization’s name to the National Institute of Health and demonstrated a shift towards support for public funding of medical research. The new NIH campus was dedicated in Bethesda, Maryland in 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Public Health Service Act of 1944 paved the way for modern grant-funded medical research in the post-WWII era, authorizing an $8 million budget in 1947 which grew to $1 billion in 1966.
In 1948 the organization became the National Institutes of Health (plural) as additional institutes were created under the NIH umbrella. The NIH is now comprised of 27 Institutes and Centers on a 300 acre campus in Maryland. The NIH Clinical Center is the nation’s largest hospital specifically dedicated to clinical research, and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2003.
The NIH credits its initiatives for contributing to the increase in life expectancy for people born in the United States from 48 years in 1900 to 79 years today. The NIH Clinical Center has also contributed numerous breakthroughs, including the first successful replacement of a mitral valve, diagnostic blood tests for AIDS and hepatitis, the first cure of a solid tumor with chemotherapy, and many more.
Today the NIH is the largest source of funding for medical research in the world, investing $30.9 billion annually to support scientific discovery.
The image above depicts a petri dish with an impression of a world map on its surface, meant to symbolize the global impact of research supported by the NIH. The image was created by local artist Nicolette Capuano.
Check back soon for additional blogs in the series on important time points in the history of FDA regulations as we continue to release individual blogs about The History of Clinical Research: A Timeline.
Image Credit: Nicolette Capuano