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.
All of us have a stake in understanding and knowing science. Science changes and determines our lives in so many ways. There are the products of science and technology that define the world we live in. But perhaps more important are the processes of science, how we ask questions, how we inquire about things, how we seek evidence, how we make decisions and change our behavior. This century has been defined as a century of science, especially as it comes to medicine and disease. As director of the National Cancer Institute, I'm engaged in an incredible adventure involving tens of thousands of scientists trying to use the power of science to finally eliminate the mystery of these dreaded and often fatal diseases. With science, we're making progress. The next five days, you will be taking a course that many people have put together that will attempt not only to give you a flavor for the interest and the excitement, the story of the science behind cancer, but also, to give you a bit of the tools that will allow you to approach cancer and, indeed, just about anything with the approach of science, the asking of questions, the evaluation of evidence, and the ability to understand why and how you make the decisions you make. I hope that you enjoy it.
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