She has always stood as a beacon to a better way of life. And for millions, America was truly a land of opportunity, a place where ambitions could be pursued and dreams could be realized. But life here was not without risk. Throughout the world, deadly microbes were taking a tremendous toll. Diseases ran rampant through the population with little or no resistance. In the 19th century, cholera alone killed millions worldwide. Life was precious and fragile. An American child born in 1887 had an average life expectancy of just 45 years. Throughout our country, there are many reminders of those not fortunate enough to see the ripe old age of 45. Today, the average life expectancy of an American is over 75 years. In just over a century, devastating diseases such as cholera, small pox, and pellagra have been virtually eliminated in the U.S. Dozens more life-threatening ailments are now treatable and controllable because of medical research and public health interventions.
The foremost medical research institution in the U.S. is the National Institutes of Health. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, funds medical research on its campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and at research institutions throughout the United States and the world. Our institutes and centers are the front lines for investigating and treating diseases. Through the development of new therapies and an understanding of the processes of life, the NIH has contributed to practically every medical advance in our lifetime. Our roots go back to 1887 in a one-room laboratory of hygiene at the Marine Hospital in Staten Island, New York. Its first accomplishment was the isolation of cholera. By 1938, after a name change and several site locations, a cornerstone was laid for the burgeoning new National Institute of Health. As World War II was beginning, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presided over its opening dedication ceremony.
Our intramural research programs conduct scientific investigations right on our 300-acre campus in over 50 buildings. Among them is the largest research hospital in the world. Sixteen thousand employees are here working to advance medical science. Studies that we fund elsewhere around the country and the world are coordinated by our extramural research program. The multi-billion-dollar budget allocated by Congress to the NIH significantly contributes to the nation's medical research efforts. Roughly 80 percent of that budget goes to extramural research and training through grants at universities, medical schools, hospitals, and other research centers. Sixty thousand scientists at over 1,700 American institutions are doing important work funded by NIH grants. We also aid critical research in many foreign institutions. All of this research is aimed toward one critical goal: Better health for all of us.
The importance of our work has long been recognized. The Nobel Prize has been awarded to nearly 100 scientists whose work was supported by the NIH. Through a competitive grant system, panels of scientific experts evaluate all grant applications to determine the best ideas to support with our funding. NIH scientists include basic researchers and clinical investigators. Through laboratory research, basic researchers look for the fundamental mechanisms underlying health and disease, how tissues function, how cells grow, and how genes direct it all. Clinical investigators find ways to transfer basic knowledge into medical practices. They learn how to apply new and more effective treatments, implement new strategies for preventing disease, and develop better diagnostic techniques.
Our institutes examine various research challenges from different perspectives, each dedicating its efforts to a single very broad field. We not only write medical history, we also share it through the National Library of Medicine. It houses the largest collection of medical archives and medical data in the world, including the volumes of findings resulting from millions of hours of NIH medical research. While we are hard at work to understand the complexities of life, we stand at the brink of incredible discoveries. The NIH will continue its important work of seeking innovative ways to detect, prevent, treat, and cure diseases while educating people in lifestyle practices that can lead to a longer, healthier life. Average life expectancy has increased 30 years in just over a century. The NIH is proud of the contributions our research has made to these gains and to the overall quality of life. It remains our goal to continue this pursuit.
My name is Dr. Anthony Fauci. I'm the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The institute is committed to the study of infectious agents that cause disease as well as the mechanisms whereby the body fights against these diseases.
We live in a world that's surrounded by microbes, or bugs, as we commonly refer to them. They are infectious agents that exist outside of us and even inside our body. Some of them cause no harm, and others make people very sick. In fact, infectious diseases are a very important cause of illness and death throughout the world. There has always been a constant struggle between man and these microbes for survival. Thus far, we've done a pretty good job. But nonetheless, these microbes still pose a continual threat to the health of the human species.
We sometimes refer to these microbes as microbes that emerge or re-emerge. An emerging microbe is one that we've never had any experience with until it just comes up recently. There are some very good examples of that. The most commonly known in the present time is the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. That is an emerging microbe because it was not, to our knowledge, around before we first recognized it in the early 1980s. A re-emerging microbe is one that we've known about for a while but that now is coming back in a different form that's more threatening.
Let me give you an example. Years ago, pneumococcal pneumonia was very sensitive to antibiotics. So if you got the pneumonia, you could get a drug that would very quickly make you much better and essentially cure you of the pneumonia. Most recently, over the past 10 or more years, this microbe has re-emerged in a resistant form. So we have to turn to newer, more potent antibiotics to be able to suppress this particular microbe.
Many, many years ago, before we were aware that these microbes or infectious agents caused disease, there was a lot of superstition and a lot of misinformation about why people got sick. People didn't have a clue about how they could avoid transmitting infection from one person to another. Now that we appreciate exactly what causes these diseases, there are many things that we can do to prevent them. Simple things like washing your hands or when you sneeze or cough, covering yourself or putting a handkerchief there so you don't spread the germ to someone else.
There are a number of ways in which the human body can combat or fight against these dangerous infectious agents. One of them is called the body's immune system, or the protective mechanisms whereby the body naturally fights against infection where you don't need a drug; you may not even need a vaccine. If you get infected, you may get sick for a little while, but ultimately, the body's defense is able to overcome this particular infection. We now know that there are a number of ways of boosting the body's immune system so that it can accomplish that task even better and more efficiently. The next important way is the development of antibiotics or antimicrobials to actually kill these microbes when they're in the body. The discovery of antibiotics, particularly the ground-breaking discovery of penicillin many years ago, was one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of medicine. Another weapon against infectious disease is vaccination. There are a number of important examples of vaccines that have either completely suppressed or in some cases totally eliminated infectious diseases that were previously very deadly to large segments of the world's population. Smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria— now we have virtually no trouble with these diseases because vaccination has provided an important protection against getting infected.
Historically, if you look at infectious diseases that have shaped the course of history, some come to mind immediately. Tuberculosis is one of the major killers. Another one is malaria. Importantly, malaria infects hundreds or millions of people a year and kills between 2 and 2.5 million people a year. Still today in 1999, tuberculosis kills up to 3 million people each year. The only thing that we have to battle against these microbes is our ability to think and our ability to plan and our ability to do science that will keep us a step or more a head of the microbes.
The microbe, because of its ability to multiply so rapidly, has a characteristic called adaptability. When you try to crush it one way, it adapts and gets at you another way. So you constantly need to be coming up with new strategies, new drugs, new vaccines, new public health measures to keep the human species a step or two ahead of the microbes. That's done, fundamentally, through science and medicine. That's why we're going to rely on young people like yourselves to learn science and stay interested in science, pay attention, and maybe even some day, some of you might actually make this a career.
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