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NICHD Celebrates 40th Year
By Robert Bock
NICHD recently marked its 40th anniversary with events commemorating its founding. The celebrations featured a "Hall of Honor" award ceremony to recognize its intramural scientists and extramural grantees who made outstanding contributions to both science and human health. The institute also held a scientific symposium to highlight some of the exceptional contributions made by NICHD-supported scientists in basic and clinical research.
"Forty years, let me tell you, is still childhood for an institute like this one," said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni at the Hall of Honor ceremony held in conjunction with the NICHD council meeting. He added that 40 years is a short interval when compared to many other institutions. Of the top 100 governments in existence in 1900, Zerhouni explained, only 2 had survived until 2000. Institutions of advanced learning weathered the test of time with far greater success. Of the top 100 universities in existence in 1500, 75 percent had survived until 2000.
Zerhouni thanked NICHD's current and past advisory councils for advancing science and medicine through their efforts. He noted that NICHD's council, along with NIH's other advisory boards, peer review committees and ad hoc groups, is part of a network of 21,000 volunteer advisors. This network is larger than any of the consulting companies that the federal government relies on and provides NIH with far more advice from U.S. citizens than any other federal agency receives. "Selflessly, they give their time, they give their wisdom, with very little reward," he said.
NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander introduced the ceremony by noting that he had recently attended his high school class's 45th reunion. When his former classmates asked him about his occupation, Alexander explained that he was director of the NIH institute that supports research on improving pregnancy outcomes and promoting the healthy development of children. A few people, Alexander said, asked him to explain further.
"If your daughter or daughter-in-law needed help getting pregnant," he said, "most of the treatments she got were based on NICHD research."
Similarly, Alexander told his former classmates, if their daughter or daughter-in-law thought she might be pregnant but didn't know for sure, the home pregnancy test that she used came directly from NICHD research. Moreover, the screening for fetal abnormalities that she was offered during her pregnancy also was developed from NICHD research.
"The care her baby got at birth, especially if it was born prematurely, was guided by NICHD research," Alexander continued. Similarly, the blood tests given to all newborns to detect such debilitating disorders as phenylketonuria and newborn hypothyroidism also resulted from studies funded by the institute.
"Whenever your grandchild was put down to sleep on its back instead of on its tummy, like you did with your children, the parents were applying new information from NICHD's research and public education campaign to reduce the risk of your grandchild dying of SIDS," Alexander said.
The vaccine used to immunize their grandchildren against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was also developed in NICHD's research laboratories. Before immunization with the vaccine became routine, Hib meningitis was the most common cause of acquired mental retardation; now the disease is gone. NICHD research also provided parents with information useful for choosing among day care options, and offered the foundation of modern methods for teaching children to read.
Other institute achievements were featured at NICHD's 40th anniversary scientific symposium on Sept. 8. Among the NICHD-supported speakers, five Nobel laureates and six Lasker Award winners addressed the more than 500 people who registered for the conference. Symposium presentations spanned the gamut of NICHD's mission to conduct and support research in virtually all aspects of human development, from conception through gestation, childhood, adolescence and the reproductive years.
During the 25 talks, speakers from the institute's intramural division as well as many grantees addressed a broad array of scientific topics. These included the genetic causes of mental retardation, the future of vaccine development at NICHD, embryo formation, animal models of development, the neuroendocrine basis of disease, personality formation, economic approaches to understanding families, and immigration.
At the Hall of Honor ceremony, Zerhouni said it is important to honor the research achievements of those who came before us. "These accomplishments will be seen as the beginning 500 years from now when, like universities, NICHD will still be around."
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