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NICHD logo   National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Mission | Important Events | Legislative Chronology | Director | Organization | Appropriations


The mission of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is to ensure that every person is born healthy and wanted, that women suffer no harmful effects from the reproductive process, and that all children have the chance to fulfill their potential to live healthy and productive lives, free from disease or disability.

NICHD research focuses on topics related to the health of children, adults, families, and populations, including reproductive biology and population issues, embryonic development, maternal, child, and family health, and medical rehabilitation.

In pursuit of this mission, the NICHD conducts and supports laboratory research, clinical trials, and epidemiological studies that explore health processes; examines the impact of disabilities, diseases, and defects on the lives of individuals; and sponsors training programs for scientists, doctors, and researchers to ensure that NICHD research can continue.

NICHD research programs incorporate the following concepts:

Events that happen prior to and throughout pregnancy, as well as during childhood have a great impact on the health and well-being of adults. The Institute supports and conducts research for women, children, and families to: advance knowledge of pregnancy, fetal development, and birth for developing strategies that prevent maternal, infant, and childhood mortality and morbidity; identify and promote the prerequisites of optimal physical, mental, and behavioral growth and development through infancy, childhood, and adolescence; and contribute to the prevention and amelioration of mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

Human growth and development is a life-long process that has many phases and functions. Much of the research in this area focuses on cellular, molecular, and developmental biology to build understanding of the mechanisms and interactions that guide a single fertilized egg through its development into a multi-cellular, highly organized adult organism.

Learning about the reproductive health of women and men and educating people about reproductive practices is important to both individuals and societies. Institute-supported basic, clinical, and epidemiological research in the reproductive sciences aims to develop knowledge enabling women and men to overcome problems of infertility and to regulate their fertility in ways that are safe, effective, and acceptable to various population groups. Institute-sponsored behavioral and social science research in the population field strives to understand the causes and consequences of reproductive behavior and population change.

Developing medical rehabilitation interventions can improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities. Research in medical rehabilitation seeks to develop improved techniques and technologies, with respect to the rehabilitation of individuals with physical disabilities resulting from diseases, disorders, injuries, or birth defects.

The Institute also supports research training across all its programs, with the intent of adding to the cadre of trained professionals who are available to conduct research in areas of critical public health concern.

An overarching responsibility of the NICHD is to disseminate information that emanates from Institute research programs to researchers, practitioners, other health professionals, and the public.

Important Events in NICHD History

January 12, 1961 – The report of the Task Force on Health and Social Security calls for the establishment, by administrative action of the Surgeon General, of a National Institute of Child Health within the NIH.

January 30, 1961 – The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW) general counsel declares that existing legislation (enacted in 1950) limited the creation of new institutes to those focusing on a disease or group of diseases and that new legislation would be required to establish the institute called for in the Task Force report.

February 17, 1961 – A Center for Research in Child Health is established by the Surgeon General in the Division of General Medical Sciences.

October 17, 1962 – Public Law 87-838 authorizes the establishment of the NICHD.

January 30, 1963 – Secretary of DHEW Anthony J. Celebrezze approves the establishment of the NICHD, with a provision that the Center for Research in Child Health and the Center for Research in Aging (established in 1956) be transferred from the Division of General Medical Sciences to the new Institute.

May 14, 1963 – The Surgeon General appoints members of the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development (NACHHD) Council.

November 14, 1963 – The NICHD holds the first meeting of the NACHHD Council.

December 2, 1965 – A major NICHD reorganization, approved by the Surgeon General, gives emphasis on four program areas: reproduction, growth and development, aging, and mental retardation.

April 18, 1967 – A second reorganization of the NICHD, approved by the Surgeon General, acknowledges the Institute’s intramural research programs by separating responsibility for intramural and extramural research and creating seven intramural laboratories. The reorganization brings the NICHD administrative structure into line with that of the other institutes.

August 9, 1968 – The DHEW Secretary establishes the Center for Population Research (CPR) within the NICHD. The Center is responsible for contract and grant programs in population and reproduction research and is designated by the President as the Federal agency primarily responsible for population research and training.

1970 – The NICHD's Epidemiology and Biometry Branch, created during the Institute's second reorganization in 1967, becomes the Epidemiology and Biometry Research Program. The change allows the Program to conduct epidemiologic, behavioral, and biometric studies relating to reproductive, maternal, and child health.

May 27, 1975 – The Federal Government establishes the Center for Research for Mothers and Children (CRMC) within the NICHD. It is the focal point for research and research training on the special health problems of mothers and children. The Center also has responsibility for increasing knowledge about pregnancy, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and for administering grant and contract programs related to these areas.

June 30, 1975 – The Adult Development and Aging Branch and the Gerontology Research Center, with their programs for support and conduct of research in the field of aging, are transferred from the NICHD to the newly established National Institute on Aging.

1978 – NICHD Intramural researchers become the first to successfully clone a mammalian gene, a critical first step in obtaining large amounts of medically important proteins.

December 1983 – NICHD Grantees Ralph Brinster and Richard Palmiter become the first to transplant human genes into animals. Their accomplishment, transplanting the gene for human growth hormone into mice, provided an important new means to study the function of human genes as well as the foundation of the new biotechnology industry.

1985 – The NICHD forms research networks of Neonatal Intensive Care Units and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units. The sites, which perform large clinical trials, provide the Institute with a faster, more-effective system of evaluating neonatal intensive care and maternal-fetal treatments.

September 21, 1987 – The NICHD celebrates its 25th anniversary at the 73rd meeting of the NACHHD Council. Dr. Alexander presents the Institute’s past Directors, Drs. Aldrich, Harting, LaVeck, and Kretchmer, who share research highlights and anecdotes of their tenures at NICHD.

December 1989 – The NICHD announces the establishment of the country’s first research centers that combine the biomedical and behavioral sciences to focus specifically on learning disabilities.

September 1990 – The Institute begins a congressionally initiated national program of Child Health Research Centers. The goal is to expedite the application of findings from basic research to the care of sick children.

November 16, 1990 – Congress establishes the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR) within the NICHD to conduct and support programs for the rehabilitation, health, and well-being of individuals with physical disabilities.

1991 – The NICHD expands its Epidemiology and Biometry Research Program to create the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research (DESPR), part of the its intramural research component. DESPR's portfolio includes research in the fields of reproduction and maternal and child health.

September 1991 – The NICHD funds four new centers, two to foster the development of new contraceptive technology and two to develop improved treatments for infertility.

1994 – The NICHD launches the Back to Sleep Campaign, an education campaign designed to teach parents and caregivers the importance of putting babies on their backs to sleep, to help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS.

January 1, 1994 – In response to the need for appropriate drug therapy for pediatric patients, the NICHD establishes the Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units (PPRU) Network. The Network’s mission is to facilitate and promote pediatric labeling of new drugs or drugs already on the market to ensure the safe and effective use of drugs in children.

September 1996 – Two NICHD scientists, Drs. John Robbins and Rachel Schneerson, receive the 1996 Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for the landmark development of a polysaccharide-protein conjugate vaccine for Hemophilus influenzae type b (HIB). Also in 1996, Robbins and Schneerson receive the World Health Organization Children’s Vaccine Initiative Pasteur Award for Recent Contributions in Vaccine Development for their HIB vaccine breakthrough.

1997 – The NICHD launches the Milk Matters Calcium Education Campaign, designed to educate children, teens, parents, and health professionals about the importance of getting enough calcium during the childhood and teenage years to help prevent osteoporosis and fragile bones in adulthood.

June 1997 – The NICHD announces the start of a 5-year, $27 million international collaborative network to study autism. The Network on the Neurobiology and Genetics of Autism includes ten Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism. Also participating in this endeavor are the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the NIH Office of the Director, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

September 1997 – The NICHD initiates the first phase of its National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (called the Add Health Study). The study’s main premise is that social context – such as relationships with families, friends, and peers – influences the health-related behaviors of young people and understanding that context is essential to guide efforts to modify health behaviors.

March 1998 – Using sophisticated brain imaging technology, NICHD-funded researchers reveal a brain map of the physical basis of dyslexia. This finding may provide screening techniques that will help identify dyslexia allowing treatment to start earlier in a person’s development.

June 1998 – In the largest, most comprehensive analysis of its kind, NICHD-funded research finds that pregnant women who are infected with HIV can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to their infants by about 50 percent if they deliver by elective cesarean section before they have gone into labor and before their membranes have ruptured. This groundbreaking work will spare millions of babies from uterine exposure to HIV.

July 1998 – Food and Drug Administration approves NICHD-developed DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis) vaccine for use in immunization against these diseases.

January 1999 – The NICHD National Cooperative Reproductive Medicine Network identifies the most effective series of infertility treatments to answer the high demand for such treatments. The Network’s rigorous evaluation will provide invaluable information for those who need it most and will help to ensure the safety of those participating in the treatments.

September 30, 1999 – NICHD-funded researchers announce the discovery of the gene for Rett syndrome, a disorder in which healthy infant girls gradually lose their language capabilities, mental functioning, and ability to interact with others. The finding has immediate implications for both the development of a test to diagnose the disorder before birth, as well as new strategies to prevent the debilitating effects of the disease.

October 1999 – DHHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala and Mrs. Tipper Gore announce the start of a new component of the Back to Sleep Campaign that focuses on reducing the incidence of SIDS among African Americans. Since the start of the NICHD-led Back to Sleep campaign, the SIDS rate in the general population has decreased by approximately 40 percent.

January 2000 – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joins the NICHD in developing and supporting an international research network to improve the health of women and children throughout the world. The NICHD will match the Foundation’s $15 million to help the network establish self-sustaining, international, medical research institutions, which are urgently needed to address many of the world’s health concerns.

2000 – NICHD researchers demonstrate that inhaled nitric oxide is an effective therapy for respiratory failure in critically ill term infants in whom aggressive conventional therapy had failed. The findings, which resulted from the first definitive, randomized clinical trial of nitric oxide use in human neonates, may further reduce the long-term costs of caring for such children and improve their quality of life by reducing their risk for chronic respiratory insufficiency and central nervous system ischemia.

April 13, 2000 – The National Reading Panel, established by the NICHD, releases findings of the largest, most comprehensive, evidence-based review ever conducted on research related to how children learn to read. The 14 members of the Panel selected data from the approximately 100,000 reading research studies published since 1996, and from 15,000 studies published before that time. The independent Panel concluded that the most effective way to teach children to read is through instruction that includes a combination of methods. The review focused on alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonemic instruction), reading fluency, reading comprehension, teacher education, and computer technology.

October 5, 2000 – An NICHD-funded study, conducted by researchers from Thailand, France, and the United States, shows that transmission of HIV from a mother to her child can be reduced nearly as effectively with shorter treatments of the drug AZT, as with longer AZT treatments. The findings may allow women in developing countries to better afford the treatment that can reduce their babies' chances of contracting AIDS.

2000 – NICHD researchers evaluating data from the Fels Longitudinal Study, the oldest and largest growth study in the world, find that obesity in childhood tracks from age three onward into adulthood, and that obesity in adolescence is more likely to lead to adult obesity than obesity earlier in childhood. Data from the Study, which the NICHD has supported since 1974, may allow researchers to ascertain the segregation of growth patterns over three generations, to detect linkage of candidate genes to various phenotypes of growth and to permit the discovery of new descriptors of normal growth and underlying genetic mechanisms.

October 11, 2000 – An NICHD grantee-Dr. James J. Heckman, of the University of Chicago-is one of two NIH researchers to receive the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel. Dr. Heckman is awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work in accounting for unknown factors affecting statistical samples. Much of his work has been applied to understanding how early life events contribute to individuals' later earning potential and economic standing.

November 2000 – Fertility researchers at the NICHD find a gene in female mice that is essential for embryo development after fertilization. This finding could lead to new insights into the causes of unexplained infertility in women and may also provide an important lead for developmental biologists studying how an organism progresses from a single cell to a complex organism.

NICHD Legislative Chronology

October 17, 1962 – Public Law 87-838 authorizes the Surgeon General, with approval of the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW), to “establish in the Public Health Service (PHS) an institute for the conduct and support of research and training relating to maternal health, child health and human development, including research and training in the special health problems and requirements of mothers and children and in the basic sciences relating to the processes of human growth and development, including prenatal development.”

October 31, 1963 – Public Law 88-164 provides grants to support the construction of research centers for mental retardation and related disabilities. The NICHD remains closely associated with some 12 centers installed prior to June 30, 1967, when the authority expired.

December 24, 1970 – Public Law 91-572 adds Title X to the Public Health Service (PHS) Act to authorize grants and contracts for research and research training in family planning and population problems. The DHEW Secretary delegates the authority to the NICHD, where the program is administered by the Center for Population Research (CPR).

April 22, 1974 – Public Law 93-270 assigns the task of conducting research on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and reporting on it to the Congress, to the DHEW secretary and, ultimately, to the NICHD.

July 29, 1975 – Title II of Public Law 94-63, the Family Planning and Population Research Act of 1975, amends Title X of the PHS Act. Thereafter the PHS can conduct and support population research. Title X becomes the sole authority for population research appropriations.

August 13, 1981 – The Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, Public Law 97-35, repeals sections 1004(b)(1) and 1004(b)(2) of the PHS Act. Once enacted, authority for supporting research in human reproduction and the population sciences derives from the broad provisions of sections 301 and 441 of the PHS Act.

November 20, 1985 – The Health Extension Act of 1985 directs the NICHD to appoint an Associate Director for Prevention “to coordinate and promote the programs in the Institute concerning the prevention of health problems of mothers and children.”

November 16, 1990 – Section 3 of the NIH Amendments of 1990, Public Law 101-613, establishes the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR). The Center will conduct and support programs with respect to the rehabilitation of individuals with physical disabilities that result from congenital defects, diseases, or disorders of the neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, or any other physiological system.

June 10, 1993 – The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993, Public Law 103-43, mandates the NICHD to do the following: 1) establish contraception research centers to improve methods of contraception; establish infertility research centers to improve methods of diagnosis and treatment of infertility; and establish an educational loan repayment program for extramural and intramural health professionals who agree to conduct contraception or infertility research; 2) establish and maintain an intramural laboratory and clinical research program in obstetrics and gynecology within the Institute; 3) establish and support a program of Child Health Research Centers; and 4) undertake a national prospective, longitudinal study of adolescent health and well-being.

October 17, 2000 – President Clinton signs Public Law 106-310, the Children's Health Act, which designates the NICHD as the lead organization on a number of research initiatives, including establishment of a pediatric research initiative, expansion of autism-related and Fragile X syndrome research activities, and authorization for NICHD to lead other Federal agencies in conducting a national longitudinal study of environmental influences on child health.

Biographical Sketch of NICHD Director Duane Alexander, M.D.

Duane Alexander, M.D., was named NICHD Director on February 5, 1986, after a four-year term as the Institute's Deputy Director. Prior to his deputy directorship, Dr. Alexander also served as Assistant to the Director, beginning in 1978.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Alexander earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Following his internship and residency at the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Alexander joined the NICHD in 1968, as a clinical associate in the Children's Diagnostic and Study Branch. Following his tenure with the Branch, Dr. Alexander returned to Johns Hopkins as a fellow in pediatrics (developmental disabilities) at the John F. Kennedy Institute for Habilitation of the Mentally and Physically Handicapped Child.

His interests brought him back to the NICHD in 1971, when Dr. Alexander became Assistant to the Scientific Director and Director of the NICHD National Amniocentesis Study. The study established the safety and accuracy of prenatal diagnosis using amniocentesis, now widely used to detect numerous genetic defects and inborn errors of metabolism.

From 1974 to 1978, Dr. Alexander served as medical officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, in what is now the DHHS. During that time, he was also the physician on the staff of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, whose recommendations form the basis of current DHHS regulations that protect human subjects in research.

Dr. Alexander is a diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics and a member of the AAP, the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Developmental Pediatrics, and the Association for Retarded Citizens. For the last 10 years, he also served as the United States' observer on the Steering Committee on Bioethics for the Council of Europe.

Dr. Alexander is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, most of which relate to his research in developmental disabilities.

Directors of NICHD

In Office From
Robert A. Aldrich Mar. 1, 1963 October 1964
Donald Harting July 8, 1965 1966
Gerald D. LaVeck Oct. 9, 1966 Sept. 1, 1973
Gilbert L. Woodside (Acting) Sept. 1, 1973 Sept. 1, 1974
Norman Kretchmer Sept. 1, 1974 Sept. 30, 1981
Betty H. Pickett (Acting) Sept. 30, 1981 June 30, 1982
Mortimer B. Lipsett July 1, 1982 Jan. 7, 1985
Duane Alexander Feb. 5, 1986  


The NICHD has six major components. Three of these, the Center for Research for Mothers and Children, the Center for Population Research, and the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research, are extramural programs that support research via grants and contracts. The Division of Intramural Research, the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research, and the Division of Scientific Review comprise the NICHD's other components.

Center for Research for Mothers and Children (CRMC)

The CRMC is the principal NIH center supporting research and research training in child health and the health of mothers. CRMC-sponsored research advances fundamental and clinical knowledge focused on maternal health and child development. Areas of emphasis include: biology of high-risk pregnancies and premature birth; low birth weight; biological, behavioral, social, and emotional adaptation from infancy through adolescence and early adulthood; mental retardation and developmental disabilities; heritable diseases; birth defects; learning disabilities; nutrition; developmental biology; endocrine disorders and growth retardation; and preconceptual, prenatal, and postnatal infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS.

The Center and its programs focus on maximizing human development, preventing disease, maintaining health, and improving in the diagnosis, therapy, and clinical care of women and children. The primary goal of the Center is to ensure that mothers and families are healthy, that all babies are born healthy, and that all children reach adulthood able to achieve their optimum potential.

The CRMC has six branches:

  • The Child Development and Behavior Branch addresses the development of human behavior from infancy, through childhood and adolescence, and into early maturity. The Branch supports investigations in developmental psychobiology, behavioral pediatrics, cognitive and communicative processes, social and affective development, and health-related behaviors, as well as in learning disabilities, dyslexia, language disorders, day care, and unintentional injuries.
  • The Developmental Biology, Genetics, and Teratology Branch conducts research and training in developmental biology and in the etiology of congenital malformations. The Branch emphasizes the biology of gene transfer and the genetic regulation of human development, including the development of the immune system.
  • The Endocrinology, Nutrition, and Growth Branch supports research on the biology of nutrition and its consequences during pregnancy, from infancy through adolescence, and into early adulthood. The Branch emphasizes the interrelationships of nutrition, endocrinology, and growth and development. Branch research focuses on nutritional and hormonal aspects of normal growth and development and their pathological consequences for the development of the fetus, for the infant through adolescence, and for adult-onset diseases.
  • The Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Branch focuses on the etiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental retardation and related disabilities. The Branch sponsors research examining biomedical, behavioral, and social processes.
  • The Pediatric, Adolescent, and Maternal AIDS Branch develops and supports research on HIV infection and AIDS as they affect women of childbearing age, pregnant women, mothers, adult women, fetuses, infants, children, adolescents, and families. Research efforts focus on the epidemiology, natural history, pathogenesis, behavioral aspects, treatment, and prevention of HIV infection and disease.
  • The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch stresses research related to pregnancy, maternal health, embryonic development, fetal growth, and infant well-being. A central focus of Branch work is the prevention of prematurity and pre-term labor. The Branch funds research on high-risk pregnancies, low birth weight, premature birth, perinatal pharmacology and toxicology, SIDS, and lifestyle during pregnancy. The Branch also examines the impact of treatments given during pregnancy, such as antibiotics, analgesics, or anesthetics, as well as of drug use and addiction, cigarette smoking, obesity, and infections, on the outcome of pregnancy.

Center for Population Research (CPR)

The CPR is the Federal government's focal point for population research. Through grants and contracts, the Center supports: fundamental biomedical research on reproductive processes influencing human fertility and infertility; development of better methods for regulating fertility and preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV; evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of contraceptive methods now in use; and behavioral and social science research on the reproductive behavior of individuals, sexual transmission of HIV, and the causes and consequences of population change.

The Center, through its three branches, supports an extensive training program for individuals interested in all aspects of reproduction and population research:

  • The Contraception and Reproductive Health Branch supports projects aimed at developing and evaluating safe and effective methods for regulating fertility and at issues of reproductive health, in both men and women. The Branch funds a global research program that focuses on the epidemiology of reproductive health, including efficacy and safety studies of contraceptive and non-contraceptive gynecological products, medical devices, and surgical procedures. Additional areas of interest include research on microbicides for prevention of STDs including HIV and research on female pelvic floor disorders.
  • The Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch supports studies on: social, psychological, economic, and environmental factors that govern population change; the relationship between individual, household, and social behavior and population change; and behavioral and social science research related to sexual risk of HIV transmission.
  • The Reproductive Sciences Branch supports fundamental and translational biomedical research in reproductive biology, endocrinology, genetics, and medicine, as relevant to problems of human fertility, up to and including the completion of implantation. The Branch also supports research on gynecologic and andrologic diseases that impact the reproductive process.

National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR)

The NCMRR funds research training and projects to develop the scientific knowledge needed to promote the health, productivity, independence, and quality-of-life for people with disabilities. A primary goal of the Center is to bring the health-related problems of people with disabilities to the attention of the nation’s best scientists to capitalize upon the myriad advances occurring in the biological, behavioral, and engineering sciences.

The NCMRR supports three distinct research programs:

  • The Behavioral Sciences and Rehabilitation Engineering Program supports research in these two aspects of rehabilitation. First, the Behavioral Sciences component focuses on the following areas: the person and the rehabilitation process; quality-of-life; and life span issues. These topics may fall under behavioral adaptation, measurement, assessment and epidemiology, and treatment effectiveness of behavioral interventions. The second component, Rehabilitation Engineering, focuses on assistive technologies and relevant aspects of bioengineering, with an emphasis on developing techniques to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.
  • The Biological Sciences and Career Development Program supports research on the biological basis of disability and the subsequent processes of adaptation and recovery. This research includes: pathophysiology; neuroplasticity; aspects of muscle, bone, and joint function; tissue, organ, and whole-body responses; and secondary responses to chronic disabilities. Program scientists are especially interested in physiological responses to exercise, orthotics and prosthetics, pharmacological treatments, and other therapeutic strategies. The Program also directs the Medical Rehabilitation Regional Networks and all NCMRR training and career development activities.
  • The Clinical Practices Research Program supports investigations that address not only physical function, but also issues of quality-of-life. The Program encompasses a broad range of projects in the areas of evaluation, treatment, and applied technologies, with emphasis on both clinical and basic research. Projects include studies across both the life span and etiologies, such as injury and trauma (e.g., spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury), stroke, tumor, degenerative neurological diseases, and congenital conditions. Additional Program research focuses on treatment outcome, mobility impairment, secondary conditions, and cognitive impairment secondary to these conditions, including clinical trials.

Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research (DESPR)

DESPR provides the Institute with skills in four disciplines: biostatistics, epidemiology, computer sciences, and prevention research. DESPR relies solely on contracts to fund its research – not grants. Within DESPR are three branches:

  • The Biometry and Mathematical Statistics Branch provides statistical consulting and data analyses to support intramural and extramural investigators and conducts its own methodological research in biostatistics. The Branch also participates as a statistical unit in studies and projects of the NICHD.
  • The Epidemiology Branch conducts epidemiologic investigations in the fields of reproductive, perinatal, and pediatric epidemiology. The Branch conducts research focusing on the determinants of male and female fecundity and fertility, risk factors for and mechanisms underlying gravid diseases and adverse pregnancy outcomes, fetal growth and development, multiple pregnancies, perinatal infections and vaccine-preventable diseases, child and adolescent health, and injuries. Research conducted by the Branch pays particular attention to risk factors amenable to clinical and/or public health interventions, including primary prevention strategies. The Branch also includes the Pediatric Epidemiology Section, which studies causes of birth defects.
  • The Prevention Research Branch conducts behavioral research to promote healthful behaviors and prevent health problems among parents, children, and adolescents. Branch research includes observational studies and randomized trials focusing on injuries, family management of chronic disease, and problem behaviors, such as smoking and aggression.

Division of Intramural Research (DIR)

The DIR is broadly concerned with the biological and neurobiological, medical, and behavioral aspects of normal and abnormal human development.

The Division's clinical research projects admit a limited number of research patients under guidelines established by the Director of the NIH Clinical Center. Patients must be referred by a physician to participate. In addition to five clinical research and training programs in the areas of genetics, endocrinology, and maternal-fetal medicine, a diverse range of developmental models are under study in 19 research laboratories and branches.

DIR Fundamental Research

  • The Laboratory of Clinical Genomics studies the sequence of events from gene expression, leading to normal or altered cellular function. The lab investigates the regulation of gene expression, protein function, and signal transduction in cultured cells obtained from patients with heritable diseases. The studies will enhance the understanding of genotype/phenotype variation and the pathophysiology that controls them.
  • The Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology studies cellular, membrane, and molecular mechanisms that determine nervous system functions and figure importantly in brain development and mental retardation.
  • The Laboratory of Molecular Genetics examines how genetic information is transferred and expressed during development in organisms from bacteria, to vertebrates. The research places an emphasis on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control tissue differentiation and pattern formation. Among several model organisms, the zebrafish is most extensively utilized in this research.
  • The Laboratory of Developmental and Molecular Immunity conducts research into immunization-induced immunity to bacterial and other antigens. This research places its emphasis on the study of pathogenic mechanisms, immunoregulatory mechanisms of the host, and the development of vaccines directed against serious bacterial infections.
  • The Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Biophysics applies mathematical, statistical, and computer-based techniques to the analysis of complex clinical, biological, and pharmacological problems. Studies emphasize membrane dynamics and model studies on HIV infection.
  • The Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development studies fundamental questions of development, differentiation, and oncogenesis. Investigations use transgenic mice and gene disruption techniques to study gene function and regulation in mouse development.
  • The Laboratory of Molecular Growth Regulation focuses on the control of mammalian cell growth, gene regulation, and immune system functions. Its goal is to understand normal control mechanisms and disorders of growth control that are manifested as cellular immortalization, transformation, or senescence.
  • The Endocrinology and Reproduction Research Branch studies the secretions and cellular actions of peptide and protein hormones, with particular reference to hypothalamic-pituitary hormones and their receptor-mediated responses in endocrine and neural cells.
  • The Cell Biology and Metabolism Branch conducts research in the areas of cell, molecular, and receptor biology. Of interest are the molecular mechanisms of iron metabolism, the biology of intracellular organelles and membrane traffic, the mechanisms that regulate the fate of newly synthesized membrane proteins, and the genetic response to environmental stress.
  • The Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Development has five groups that study mechanisms of gene regulation, chromosome condensation and segregation, and the transposition of retroelements in the model eukaryotes Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Two other groups employ the frog Xenopus laevis to investigate the regulation of mitosis and the role of thyroid hormone during metamorphosis.
  • The Laboratory of Integrative and Medical Biophysics works to devise new research and diagnostic modalities, which at present include optical techniques for detecting targets buried deep in tissue, diffusion-tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to characterize tissue microstructure and monitor its changes during disease, and laser-capture microdissection for molecular pathology and developmental biology.
  • The Laboratory of Physical and Structural Biology examines the forces between and within biological macromolecules. To understand biological structures through the physical forces that affect them, the laboratory measures force versus separation between molecules from different classes of biological macromolecules.
  • The Section on DNA Replication, Repair, and Mutagenesis studies the molecular events that influence genomic stability.

DIR Clinical Research

  • The Laboratory of Comparative Ethology investigates cognitive, social, and motivational development in humans and non-human primates. Research emphasizes early environmental influences on behavioral development and on the complex relationships between the organism and its environment. Research undertaken with primates seeks to relate brain function to behavioral states.
  • The Developmental Endocrinology Branch conducts basic and clinical studies of endocrine diseases, with an emphasis on adult reproductive endocrinology and pediatric growth and hormonal disorders. Research includes studies on obesity in different population groups.
  • The Heritable Disorders Branch has research interests that range from studies on the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of genetic and developmental disorders of young people, to basic studies on gene expression. Current projects examine lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, the mucopolysaccharidoses, heritable disorders of bone and connective tissue, and lysosomal storage diseases (e.g., cystinosis).
  • The Pediatric and Reproductive Endocrinology Branch focuses on endocrine and reproductive processes and gynecologic disorders. A major objective of this Branch is to translate research findings into practical bedside application.
  • The Perinatology Research Branch conducts clinical investigations of obstetric and neonatal conditions that contribute to infant mortality. Studies place an emphasis on antenatal diagnostic techniques, premature labor, and other causes of low birth weight.

Division of Scientific Review (DSR)

The DSR is responsible for a broad range of functions related to the review of grant applications for research and training, and of contract proposals for research. The Division also provides policy direction and coordination for planning and conducting initial scientific and technical merit reviews of applications for numerous types of grant applications, including small research grants, program projects, centers, institutional training grants, career development, and conference grants. In addition, the DSR coordinates and conducts the review of grant applications that are received by the NICHD in response to requests for applications, which are published with the aim of fostering work in a research area of particular relevance to the mission of the Institute. The Division also manages the technical evaluation of contract proposals that arrive in response to requests for proposals issued by the Institute.

To review grant applications, the DSR relies on four subcommittees of the NICHD Initial Review Group (IRG) or, where appropriate, a Special Emphasis Panel that is convened for its expertise in a specific area of science. The subcommittees of the NICHD IRG include: the Maternal and Child Health Research Subcommittee, the Mental Retardation Research Subcommittee, the Medical Rehabilitation Research Subcommittee, and the Population Research Subcommittee. In addition to managing the subcommittees, Scientific Review Administrators also recruit extramural scientists to serve as peer-reviewers, while maintaining oversight of all aspects of the peer-review process. Further, Special Emphasis Panels, which are convened as technical evaluation groups, also evaluate contract proposals.

Another component of the DSR is the NICHD Committee Management Service Center, which is responsible for assuring that the composition and conduct of committees in its charge are consonant with all regulations relevant to Federal Advisory Committees. In addition to handling all NICHD advisory committees, the NICHD Committee Management Service Center maintains responsibility for managing a number of other committees that act on behalf of several Institutes and Centers, such as the Office of the NIH Director's Committee of Public Representatives and the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council. The NICHD Committee Management Service Center also provides oversight for the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, appointed by the President.

NICHD Appropriations – Grants and Direct Operations

Fiscal year
Total grants
Direct operations1
(Amounts in thousands of dollars)

1 Includes R&D contracts, intramural research, and research management support.
2 Excludes enacted administrative reduction of $338.
3 Reflects 1 percent transfers by DHHS and NIH noncomparable to fiscal year 2000.

4 Updated since the 1999 Almanac.

This page was last reviewed on July 15, 2002 .

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