How Much Do You Know About the NIH?

For more than 130 years, the National Institutes of Health has been dedicated to expanding the boundaries of our knowledge with the goal of improving healthcare for all. Today, the NIH is the largest agency for biomedical research in the world with 27 distinct institutes and centers and a multibillion-dollar budget. It has contributed to and supported groundbreaking science that has led to life-changing discoveries. Many people, unfortunately, are not aware of the critical role the NIH plays in our lives, and with increasing economic pressures, its future is unclear. 

The NIH’s 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.” It is one of the few government bodies that operates from a point of true common interest.

Here are some key facts that are important to know and share:

  • The NIH invests approximately $32 billion annually in medical research.
  • More than 80% of the agency’s funding is awarded through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools and research institutions throughout the United States and globally.
  • Approximately 10% of the NIH budget supports research conducted by its 6,000 scientists at its laboratories primarily on its Bethesda, Maryland campus.
  • More than 80 Nobel prizes have been awarded for NIH-supported research.
  • NIH-supported research is responsible for the discovery of fluoride to prevent tooth decay, the use of lithium to manage bipolar disorders and the creation of vaccines against numerous diseases including hepatitis.
  • The first human liver transplantation was performed by an NIH grantee in 1967.
  • NIH intramural scientists developed the first cell-targeted enzyme replacement therapy and conducted the first successful clinical trial in 1991 that led to a new standard of care for the treatment of Gaucher disease.
  • The NIH has supported research that drove the development of electronic hearing aids in the 1950s to the sophisticated digital devices available today.
  • Between 1996 and 2014, more than 26,000 opiate overdoses were reversed using naloxone, a life-saving drug developed in large part from NIH research.
  • Due in part to NIH research three FDA-approved vaccines are now available to prevent infection that can cause cervical cancer.
  • Since 1950, the stroke mortality rate has decreased by 79% due in part to NIH-funded research on treatment and prevention.
  • The NIH’s Human Genome Project has resulted in nearly $1 trillion of economic growth – a 178-fold return on investment.

NIH accomplishments in virtually all areas of healthcare are too many to list. The NIH is an essential underpinning of our society’s well-being. It is important to recognize that this is not simply research for the sake of research. It is purposeful, deliberate and even economically rewarding. According to a report from a Joint Economic Committee of Congress, “the NIH’s research that was funded in 2000 at $16 billion had a rate of return of 25-40% per year by reducing the economic cost of illness in the US.” It also demonstrated that “of the 21 drugs with the highest therapeutic impact on society introduced between 1965 and 1992, public funding was instrumental for 15.” Further, the NIH reports “in 2015 its extramural funding generated an estimated $60 billion in economic output nationwide.”

Support the NIH and its funding. It makes fiscal sense, but far beyond that, it is part of our responsibility to our generation and those to come. For more information, please visit:

by Jonathan D. Katz