The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology
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National Institutes of Health
National Institute on Drug Abuse website

The Brain: Understanding Neurobiology

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About NIH

About the National Institutes of Health

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Begun as the one-room Laboratory of Hygiene in 1887, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today is one of the world’s foremost biomedical and behavioral research centers and the federal focal point for health research in the United States.

Mission and Goals

The NIH mission is science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. The goals of the agency are to

NIH works toward meeting those goals by providing leadership, direction, and grant support to programs designed to improve the health of the nation through research into the


Composed of 27 separate institutes and centers, NIH is one of eight health agencies of the Public Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH encompasses 75 buildings on more than 300 acres in Bethesda, Md., as well as facilities at several other sites in the United States. The NIH budget has grown from about $300 in 1887 to more than $30 billion in 2009.

Research Programs

One of NIH’s principal concerns is to invest wisely the tax dollars entrusted to it for the support and conduct of this research. Approximately 82 percent of the investment is made through grants and contracts supporting research and training in more than 2,000 research institutions throughout the United States and abroad. In fact, NIH grantees are located in every state in the country. These grants and contracts make up the NIH Extramural Research Program.

Approximately 10 percent of the budget goes to NIH’s Intramural Research Programs, the more than 2,000 projects conducted mainly in its own laboratories. These projects are central to the NIH scientific effort. First-rate intramural scientists collaborate with one another regardless of institute affiliation or scientific discipline and have the intellectual freedom to pursue their research leads in NIH’s own laboratories. These explorations range from basic biology to behavioral research, to studies of treatments for major diseases.

Grant-Making Process

The grant-making process begins with an idea that an individual scientist describes in a written application for a research grant. The project might be small, or it might involve millions of dollars. The project might become useful immediately as a diagnostic test or new treatment, or it might involve studies of basic biological or behavioral processes whose clinical value may not be apparent for many years.

Each research grant application undergoes peer review. A panel of scientific experts, primarily from outside the government, who are active and productive researchers in the health sciences first evaluates the scientific merit of the application. Then, a national advisory council or board, composed of eminent scientists as well as members of the public who are interested in health issues or the biomedical or behavioral sciences, determines the project’s overall merit and priority in advancing the research agenda of the particular NIH funding institutes and centers.

About 38,500 research and training applications are reviewed annually throughout the NIH peerreview system. At any given time, NIH supports 35,000 grants in universities, medical schools, and other research and research training institutions, both nationally and internationally.

The Nobelists

The roster of people who conducted NIH research or who have received NIH support over the years includes some of the world’s most illustrious scientists and physicians. Among them are 115 winners of Nobel Prizes for achievements as diverse as deciphering the genetic code and identifying the causes hepatitis. You can learn more about Nobelists who have received NIH support.

Impact on the Nation’s Health

Through its research, NIH has played a major role in making possible many achievements over the past few decades, including these:

Science Education

Science education by NIH and its institutes and centers contributes to ensuring the continued supply of well-trained basic research and clinical investigators, as well as the myriad professionals in the many allied disciplines who support the research enterprise. These efforts also help educate people about scientific results so that they can make informed decisions about their own—and the public’s—health.

This curriculum supplement is one such science education effort, a collaboration among four partners: the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse, the NIH Office of Science Education (OSE), Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, and Videodiscovery, Inc.

OSE learning tools support teachers in training the next generation of scientists and scientifically literate citizens. These materials cover information not available in standard textbooks and allow students to explore biological concepts by using real world examples. In addition to the curriculum supplements, OSE provides a host of valuable resources accessible through the OSE Web site.

We welcome your comments about existing resources and suggestions about how we may best meet your needs. Feel free to write us.

For more about NIH, visit its Web site.

About the National Institute on Drug Abuse

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one of the research institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health, was established in 1974 as the Federal focal point for research, treatment, prevention and training services, and data collection on the nature and extent of drug abuse. NIDA’s mission is to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction. This charge has two critical components. First, NIDA supports and conducts research across a broad range of disciplines to explore the biomedical and behavioral foundations of drug abuse. Second, NIDA ensures that the results of research are rapidly and effectively disseminated so that the scientific findings can be used to improve drug abuse and addiction prevention, treatment, and policy.

NIDA is the world’s leading supporter of research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. NIDA-supported science addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse, ranging from the molecule to managed care, and from DNA to community outreach research. When NIDA was founded, many people incorrectly viewed drug abuse as a problem of people with character flaws and weak wills. Today, thanks to the research accomplishments of hundreds of scientists, those simplistic ideologies are being replaced by a better understanding of the complex biological, behavioral, social, and public health aspects of drug abuse. Scientists have shown that while initial experimentation with drugs may be voluntary, continuing drug abuse changes the brain in fundamental and long-lasting ways. These brain changes trigger the compulsive drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviors that are the hallmarks of drug addiction. NIDA’s scientists have clearly shown that drug abuse is a preventable behavior and drug addiction is a treatable brain disease. Among the many and diverse accomplishments over the past three decades, NIDA-supported research has

The results of these and other achievements through NIDA-funded research offer this country’s best hope for solving the medical, social, and public health problems of drug abuse and addiction.

The need for greater knowledge of drug abuse continues to grow. Ever-changing drug use patterns, the continuing transmission of HIV infection among people who abuse drugs, and the need to develop new and effective treatment and prevention methods underscore the importance of research in finding new and better ways to alleviate the pain and devastation of addiction. NIDA’s goals for the future include

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