NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services, was founded in 1887. As well as being the major source of funding for biomedical research in the U.S. through its grants program, the NIH has made seminal contributions to basic and clinical science to turn the tragedy of human suffering into triumph over the infectious, genetic, and chronic diseases that plague us.
The Office of NIH History and Stetten Museum (ONHM), founded in 1987, maintains the agency history page. Their mission is to document, preserve, and interpret NIH history. The collections provide a unique testimony to the achievements of the collective work done at the NIH since its inception, and include policy, budget, and, of course, biomedical discoveries.
Home Page URL: https://www.nih.gov/
History Page URL: https://history.nih.gov/
Suggested Research Topics and Related Historical Resources:
In the early 1980s, a new disease that was always fatal burst into the global spotlight, killing millions of people around the world. What was it? How was it transmitted? Could it be treated? Could it be prevented? Those were questions that researchers at the National Institutes of Health asked – and answered – during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was the contributions of patients, nurses, physicians, and scientists at the NIH that identified the cause of AIDS, and resulted in their development of the first treatment for it.
“In Their Own Words: NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS” is an ONHM website that presents the history of AIDS from before its identification, using oral histories, essays, and images. Complete transcripts of the oral histories are provided, as well as a documentary archive with primary sources and an image archive. There are also links to other sites for more information. https://history.nih.gov/NIHInOwnWords/index.html
Almost forgotten now is a disease which killed thousands of Americans, mostly in the South. Called “pellegra” the disease caused diarrhea, dementia, and death. The human suffering and tragedy was significant, and the economic effects were important as well. Dr. Joseph Goldberger of the Public Health Service’s Hygienic Laboratory, precursor of the NIH, was assigned to see what caused the disease in 1914. Most physicians believed that it was an infectious disease, but Goldberger noted that it only affected poor people, particularly those in prison, mental hospitals, and orphanages, but not their caretakers. He thought the cause of the disease was a result of poverty and set out to prove it. Through disgusting experiments on himself and colleagues and epidemiological studies on affected populations, Goldberger was able to prove the cause of pellegra was a dietary deficiency. It was the first time that the lack of a particular nutrient was scientifically shown to cause disease. The tragedy of this story is that thousands of people were sick or died from pellegra for the simple want of an adequate diet. The triumph is not just Goldberger’s discovery of the cause, but his triumph over the political and social forces that refused to accept his findings.
The web exhibit “Dr. Joseph Goldberger and the War on Pellegra” presents this story with essays and images: https://history.nih.gov/exhibits/Goldberger/index.html
ONHM also holds in its collection Goldberger’s diary of this time in his life. There are also numerous online resources for this topic.