The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the largest medical research agency in the United States and the largest source of funding for medical research in the world. The agency traces its roots to 1887, when a one-room laboratory was created within the Marine Hospital Service (MHS). Founded in 1798 to provide for the medical care of merchant seamen, the MHS had been asked by Congress in the 1880s to examine passengers on arriving ships for clinical signs of infectious diseases in order to prevent epidemics.
The mission of the NIH is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and to apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. More specifically, its goals include: fostering fundamental creative discoveries and innovative research strategies in the health sciences; developing, maintaining, and renewing scientific human and physical resources to support the Nation's ability to prevent disease; expanding the knowledge base in medical and associated sciences; and exemplifying and promoting the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science. The NIH conducts and supports research into the causes, diagnosis, prevention, and cure of human diseases; the processes of human growth and development; the biological effects of environmental contaminants; the understanding of mental, addictive, and physical disorders; and programs for the collection, dissemination, and exchange of information in medicine and health.
The NIH comprises 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research area that often focuses on particular diseases or body systems. Approximately 6,000 scientists work in the NIH’s own laboratories, most of which are on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The main campus is also home to the NIH Clinical Center, the largest hospital in the world totally dedicated to clinical research. In addition, the NIH funds thousands of scientists in universities and research institutions in every state across America and around the globe; indeed, more than 80% of the NIH's budget is used to fund more than 300,000 research personnel at over 3,000 universities and research institutions. As a result, NIH scientists have paved the way for important discoveries that improve health and save lives. More than 130 Nobel Prize winners received NIH support.
As a federally-funded research agency, the NIH responds to Congressional legislation that adjusts NIH programs to meet changing research needs. As a result, the NIH is able to respond strategically in an era when medical research requires constant innovation and increased interdisciplinary efforts. In addition, the NIH supports many innovative training programs and funding mechanisms that foster scientific creativity and exploration.