Every day, researchers at the National Institutes of Health turn the stuff of science fiction into reality. Through their work, they are striving towards the goal of improving the lives of millions in the nation and around the world. From developing new cells that can repair damaged cancer cells to building robots controlled by a person's thoughts, the thousands of scientists working in NIH laboratories or supported with NIH funding are saving lives — one innovation at a time.

Tiny but Transformative

Nanotechnology is a big word for the study of something very small. NIH scientists manipulate matter that is 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The results are affecting every aspect of our lives.

Nanotechnology researchers at NIH are developing innovative treatments and diagnostics for asthma, heart disease, and tooth decay. Also under study are hundreds of potential applications for nanotechnology, ranging from improving the freshness of food to expanding energy use.

Download the brochure "Nanotechnology: Innovative Research at the Molecular Scale."

Altering Cells at a Distance

A new NIH effort will attempt to unlock the mysteries of extracellular RNA (exRNA) communication. Check out this animation to better understand this new research focus.

Once thought to exist only inside cells, RNA is now known to travel outside of cells and play a role in newly discovered mechanisms of cell-to-cell communication. Are these extracelluar RNAs (exRNAs) involved in diseases like cancer, heart disease or neurological diseases like Alzheimer's? Could scientists learn how to use exRNAs to diagnose diseases earlier or even to treat these diseases?

Learn more about exRNA communication.

Unlocking Stem Cell Secrets

Colony of human stem cells.

New stem cell research has the potential to treat people with heart conditions or Parkinson's disease by using "repaired" cells created from their own skin cells to fix disease-damaged cells.

Cell being drawn off a small cluster under a microscope.

“Responsible stem cell research has the potential to develop new treatments and ultimately save lives.”

— NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Learn more about stem cell research at NIH.

A Whole World in Your Hand

A new handheld ultrasound scanner brings lifesaving technology to the world.

The Vscan® ultrasound device fits in a pocket, yet it is proving itself as a clinical tool, especially in developing countries and disaster areas. The scanner has been used to triage injured patients during the 2011 Japan earthquake and to provide prenatal care in Tanzania. It's been cleared for heart scanning, fetal and pediatric exams, and other tests. Learn more about the work of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Magnifying Life

With a powerful new microscope — 30 times faster than the fastest microscope — scientists now can witness events never before seen, including watching life develop from a single cell.

Cells from video about highly powerful microscope.

A new microscope helps scientists better understand how cells multiply and organize to form an embryo — or transform from a healthy state to disease.

It’s All in the Genes

3-dimensional rendering of a DNA strand.

Your genes influence much more about you than just how you look. They also determine how your body responds to medicine. A simple test can determine which medications are likely to be the right fit for you.

Learn more about pharmacogenomics.

“The real promise of pharmacogenetics is knowing and being able to use research information that tells us that one size does not fit all when it comes to drugs. Different drugs will be appropriate for different people in different amounts.”

— Rochelle Long, Ph.D., National Institute of General Medical Sciences

No More Biopsies?

Faster, more accurate diagnosis and personalized cancer care, without a biopsy

Faster results and better care—that's the promise of a new handheld ultrasound device for diagnosing cancer. Using smart phone technology instead of traditional biopsies, the device collects images of cancer cells. Molecular profiling of the images provides genetic information about the tumor and recommends treatment that is tailored to each patient.

As Personal as a Fingerprint

Researchers analyze DNA to study the molecular features of diseases.Veer / Kheng Ho Toh

Life may not come with an instruction booklet, but, very soon, your DNA will. This information, known as personalized medicine, helps your doctors know which medications might be right for you and which ones to avoid.

Learn more about personalized medicine.

“When combined with other sources of information, genomics has the power to predict the diseases a person is most likely to develop and how he or she might respond to certain medicines. This work provides a glimpse of how genomics can play a role in personalizing the medical care of individual patients.”

— National Institute of General Medical Sciences Director Jeremy Berg, Ph.D.

Donor Coordinator Becomes a Donor

Woman in a hospital bed along with a nurse depicting stem cell donation.

Inspired by her work coordinating transplants, a donor search coordinator registered to become a stem cell donor herself. Six years later, she got the call that would help save someone's life.

Stem cells in test tubes.

Each year, thousands of people with leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and other life-threatening blood diseases wait for their best hope of a cure — a bone marrow or blood stem cell donation, often from a total stranger registered with the National Marrow Donor Program.

Find out how you can add your name to the list.

A Helping Hand

The BrainGate Collaboration

A robotic arm controlled by her thoughts helps a patient drink without help.

The BrainGate™ computer system harnesses the power of imagination, giving paralyzed patients more independence and a better quality of life. Simply imagining an action, such as grabbing a ball or drinking from a bottle, commands the robotic arm to move.

This page last reviewed on September 14, 2015