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.
Twins and grins and human freckles. Smiles and noses. How tall we'll be. What color hair? Straight or curly? It's in our genes, our heredity. But there are also things we'd rather avoid. Many diseases come from alterations in our genes. To decipher our genetic code, we've begun a scientific journey called the Human Genome Project. Here's what it means. Every disease has a genetic component. Most of those diseases remain pretty obscured as far as our understanding of what that heredity basis is due to. By uncovering the 80,000 to 100,000 genes in the human genome, we should at the same time uncover the hereditary basis of most diseases. And that will put us in a position to diagnose them better and treat them better and practice better preventive medicine. Genetics research has already found the genes responsible for many diseases. Once a disease gene is identified, that opens up the possibility of fixing it. We are all 99.9% identical at the DNA level. But that 0.1% where we differ is extremely interesting. Within that small fraction of differences lie the clues to the causes of common diseases like heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes. As we focus more on human variation,w though, we'll also learn just how similar we all are and that you can't draw precise boundaries around certain population groups. Separation of the human race into ethnic or population divisions is really not scientifically justifiable. We will have a challenge on our hands to try to integrate that kind of information into our concept of ourselves. Some people will be glad to learn this and some people won't. But we will all be forced to realize just how much of a family we really all are. It's not just those now suffering from genetic illnesses who stand to benefit from the Human Genome Project. Sooner or later, we all will.
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