National Institutes of Health

Over the past 40 years, NIH-supported research contributed to the discovery of over 150 new FDA-approved drugs, vaccines and new indications for current drugs. NIH-funded research leads to important medical breakthroughs and treatments. For example, NIH researchers are studying the structure of Zika in order to identify drug targets to combat the virus, and designing nanoparticles to deliver a drug directly into tumor cells to treat cancer. More than 80% of NIH’s budget is awarded through grants to 300,000 researchers at more than 3,100 universities, medical schools and other research institutions across the country.



NOTE: Does not include supplemental funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Sources: NIH Office of Budget, House Committee on Appropriations.

Americans Support Increased Funding for NIH

The National Institutes of Health's (NIH) mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. How important is it to increase funding for NIH?


Source: A Research!America poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in January 2015.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plays a critical role in the lives of Americans and people across the globe. NIH-conducted and -supported research, coupled with private sector medical innovation and crucial advances in public health, has had a profoundly important impact: we now enjoy a longer lifespan and experience significantly less disease compared to Americans living a century ago.1

NIH invests in research that seeds new preventive measures, diagnostic tools, treatments, and cures. Its funding empowers scientific discovery in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.2 To date, the NIH has supported the groundbreaking research of 156 Nobel Laureates and 195 Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation awardees.3,4 NIH is also a major player in the American economy. In 2018 alone, the NIH supported more than 433,000 jobs and generated $74 billion in new economic activity.5

History of NIH

What became the NIH started in 1887 in a single room called the Laboratory of Hygiene, operated by one physician dedicated to studying microorganisms.6 In 1930, federal legislation expanded the laboratory’s reach in the interest of public health and renamed the laboratory the National Institute of Health.7 That singular Institute has evolved into 27 institutes and centers that lay the essential groundwork for medical discoveries to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat diseases and disabilities “from the rarest genetic disorder to the common cold.”8

The Institutes and Centers of the NIH

 NIH houses 27 institutes and centers that contribute to the medical research space:

Institute Description
National Cancer Institute Researches the biology, treatment, and prevention of cancer
National Eye Institute Conducts research relating to vision and eye disease
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Supports research of basic discoveries and clinical treatments for diseases of the heart, lung, and blood
National Human Genome Research Institute Uses genome research to understand human biology
National Institute of Aging Researches the biology of aging and age-related disease
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Researches the treatment and prevention of alcohol-related health problems
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Seeks to understand how to prevent and treat arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Conducts research on fertility and pregnancy to ensure the health of children
National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Researches disorders of the senses
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Leads the nation’s research on dental and craniofacial diseases
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Conducts research on diabetes and digestive and kidney disorders, including metabolic diseases, such as obesity and nutritional disorders
National Institute on Drug Abuse Studies the science of drug use and addiction and translates these studies to overall public health
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Researches how the environment impacts human health
National Institute of General Medical Sciences Conducts basic research to understand the biology of disease plus focuses on scientific training development
National Institute of Mental Health Seeks to understand, treat, and prevent mental illness
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Researches health disparities among minority populations plus supports training of a diverse workforce
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Researches the brain and nervous system and their associated disorders
National Institute of Nursing Research Conducts research on clinical practice and palliative and end-of-life care
National Library of Medicine Collects biomedical science information and serves as a resource for researchers


Center Description
NIH Clinical Center Supports the field of clinical research by studying disease, conducting clinical trials, and training clinical researchers
Center for Information Technology Uses computational resources for biomedical research
Center for Scientific Review Facilitates groups that evaluate NIH grants on their scientific merit
Fogarty International Center Conducts research on global health disparities
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Supports technologies that advance basic discoveries to therapies for patients
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Conducts health research on holistic, non-mainstream treatments for patients


An Example of NIH Impact: The Framingham Heart Study

NIH-supported researchers have contributed dramatically to the health of Americans and populations across the globe. The Framingham Heart Study, which sought to understand factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD), exemplifies this impact.9 Prior to this study, CVD was the cause of 1 in 2 deaths in the U.S. and its risk factors were largely unknown.10 In 1948, the newly established National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) launched the Framingham Heart Study, one of the first research projects to study individuals over the course of their lifetimes and the first to identify the risk factors for CVD, including high cholesterol, high systolic blood pressure, and diabetes.10 This seminal work shifted the paradigm by moving the focus from treating persons with CVD to preventing CVD by examining risk factors. Since the Framingham Study began, the death rate due to coronary disease and stroke in the U.S. have declined by nearly 70% in part to NIH-funded research and its impact on health care.11 To this day, the Framingham Heart Study continues to investigate the biology of CVD and gain insights from research volunteers, including the grandchildren of the original study cohort and additional groups with ethnically diverse backgrounds. 


Current location of study in Framingham, MA.

Source: Google Maps 

An Example of NIH Leadership: The All of Us Research Program

While research has vastly improved our current understanding of human biology, there are still critical, unanswered questions about how differences in individuals play a role in health. In 2016, NIH launched the All of Us Research Program aiming to collect health information from a cohort of 1 million or more research volunteers living in the U.S.12 The goal of the program is to gain understanding on how variation in genetic background, lifestyle, and environment contributes to health. All of Us invites participation enrollment from any adult living in the U.S., and plans to expand to include children as the program progresses. The program also aims to reflect the diversity of the population and engage individuals that traditionally have been underrepresented in research, such as Tribal Nations.13 One of the many attributes that sets All of Us apart is how the program empowers participants with access to their own information to inform their health decisions, including genetic counseling to help interpret the genomic sequencing results.14 The program is a broad collaboration among academic and independent research institutes, health care and patient groups, and the private sector, and its information will be widely and securely shared among researchers.15 Among the myriad of ways All of Us can help address unmet public health needs, it will help fill data gaps hindering out understanding of the biology of rare disorders and individual risks for diseases. 

The Future of NIH

The future of NIH depends on the 116th Congress. Earlier this summer, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, legislation raising budget caps imposed in 2011 that would have stifled the potential for NIH funding growth. Now Congress must act to realize the promise inherent in raising the budget caps and boost NIH funding so that the Institutes can capitalize on exciting and compelling, but as yet untapped, scientific opportunity.  As it stands, NIH can fund fewer than 25% of the research proposals that are peer reviewed.16 Our nation can do better.  Nearly 120,000 Americans die before age 45 each year from diseases that we can overcome if we do what it takes to make faster progress happen.17 Investing more robustly in NIH is a fundamentally important step on the path to a better future.


  1. National Institutes of Health, Our Health, [accessed 8/15/19].
  2. National Institutes of Health, NIH Awards by Location, [accessed 8/20/19].
  3. National Institutes of Health, Nobel Laureates, [accessed 8/15/19].
  4. National Institutes of Health, Lasker Awards, [accessed 8/15/19].
  5. United for Medical Research, NIH’s Role in Sustaining the U.S. Economy, [accessed 8/15/19].
  6. National Institutes of Health, A Short History of the National Institutes of Health, [accessed 8/15/19].
  7. National Institutes of Health, Legislative Chronology, [accessed 8/15/19].
  8. National Institutes of Health, Frequently Asked Questions, [accessed 8/15/19].
  9. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Framingham Heart Study, [accessed 8/15/19].
  10. Mahmood et al., Lancet (2014).
  11. American Heart Association, Cardiovascular Disease: A Costly Burden for America (2017), [accessed 8/15/19].
  12. National Institutes of Health, About the All of Us Research Program, [accessed 8/20/19].
  13. National Institutes of Health, All of Us Tribal Engagement, [accessed 8/20/19].
  14. National Institutes of Health, NIH Funds Genetic Counseling Resource Ahead of Million-Person Sequencing Effort, [accessed 8/21/19].
  15. National Institutes of Health, Program FAQ, [accessed 8/20/19].
  16. National Institutes of Health, Reseach Project Success Rates by NIH Institute for 2018, [accessed 8/15/19].
  17. Estimate based on analysis of CDC data: United States Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2017 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2018. Data are compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Available from: [accessed 8/15/19]. ICD-10 system used to classify cause of death. This figure includes disease-caused deaths (codes A-N, P-U) and intentional self-harm (X60-84).


Policy Contacts

The capabilities are enormous, a little bit of research can pay off quite a bit in the long run.
Paul D’ Addario, retinitis pigmentosa patient