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NCCAM logo   National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Mission | Important Events | Legislative Chronology | Director | Divisions


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science; training complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) researchers; and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals.

To fulfill its mission, the NCCAM supports a broad-based portfolio of research, research training, and educational grants and contracts, as well as various outreach mechanisms to disseminate information.


NCCAM's primary responsibility is the conduct and support of basic and clinical research studies, using well-established tools of rigorous scientific design, conduct and oversight. These studies involve investigator-initiated projects as well as NCCAM-solicited applications. NCCAM supports definitive large, multi-center clinical trials; studies of entire systems of traditional and indigenous medicine (e.g., Native American medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine); CAM Specialty Centers of Research; exploratory studies of frontier medicine; and studies of botanicals that are used by the American public to treat many diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, and depression. The Center carries out these activities independently and in collaboration with other NIH Institutes and Centers, other government agencies, domestic and international research institutions, and industry.


The NCCAM supports a full spectrum of predoctoral, postdoctoral, and career awards to develop a cadre of skilled investigators from both the CAM and conventional communities. The goal is to train individuals to apply the tools of exacting science to CAM systems and modalities. Institutional awards are available to support research fellows. Mentored Research Career Development Awards provide opportunities to clinicians and research scientists to develop skills for conducting rigorous research and to pursue careers as investigators. Limited support is also provided for research conferences.

Information Dissemination

Distributing scientifically based information on CAM research, practices, and findings is central to the NCCAM mission. This is accomplished through:

  • Operating the NCCAM Information Clearinghouse

  • Producing publications, such as fact sheets and the NCCAM newsletter

  • Offering a Web site at

  • Sponsoring town meetings, conferences, and other outreach activities

  • Exhibiting at events around the United States and the world

  • Co-sponsoring, with the National Library of Medicine, the CAM on PubMed database, located at

  • Maintaining the Complementary and Alternative Medicine subfile of the Combined Health Information Database (CHID) at

Important Events in NCCAM History

October 1991 – The U.S. Congress passes legislation (P.L.102-170) that provides $2 million in funding for fiscal year 1992 to establish an office within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate and evaluate promising unconventional medical practices. Stephen C. Groft, Pharm.D., is appointed Acting Director of the new Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM).

September 1992 – A Workshop on Alternative Medicine is convened in Chantilly, Virginia, to discuss the state-of-the-art of major areas of alternative medicine and to direct attention to priority areas for future research activities.

October 1992 – Joseph J. Jacobs, M.D., M.B.A., is appointed first Director of the OAM.

June 1993 – The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act of 1993 (P.L.103-43) formally establishes the OAM within the Office of the Director, NIH, to facilitate study and evaluation of complementary and alternative medical practices and to disseminate the resulting information to the public.

September 1993 – The first OAM research project grants are funded through the National Center for Research Resources.

December 1993 – The Alternative Medicine Program Advisory Council is established.

September 1994 – Alan I. Trachtenberg, M.D., M.P.H., is appointed Acting Director of the OAM.

January 1995 – Wayne B. Jonas, M.D., is appointed the second Director of the OAM.

October 1995 – A Research Centers Program is established to provide a nationwide focus for interdisciplinary CAM research in academic institutions.

October 1996 – A Public Information Clearinghouse is established.

November 1996 – The OAM is designated a World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Traditional Medicine.

September 1997 – The first Phase III clinical trial is funded, a study of St. John's wort for major depression. The trial is co-sponsored by OAM, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.

October 1998 – NCCAM is established by Congress under Title VI, Section 601 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999 (P.L. 105-277). This bill amends Title IV of the Public Health Service Act and elevates the status of the OAM to an NIH Center.

January 1999 – William R. Harlan, M.D., is named Acting Director of NCCAM.

February 1999 – The Secretary of Health and Human Services signs the organizational change memorandum creating NCCAM and making it the 25th independent component of the NIH. The NCCAM Director is vested with broad decision-making authority, especially concerning financial and administrative management and fiscal and review responsibility for grants and contracts.

May 1999 – NCCAM independently awards its first research project grant.

The NCCAM Trans-Agency CAM Coordinating Committee (TCAMCC) is established by the NCCAM Director to foster the Center's collaboration across the DHHS and other Federal agencies. This committee supersedes a trans-agency committee established by the NIH Director in 1997.

June 1999 – A Special Emphasis Panel is chartered to enable NCCAM to conduct peer review of mission-specific CAM applications.

August 1999 – The National Advisory Council on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NACCAM) is chartered.

October 1999 – Stephen E. Straus, M.D., is appointed the first Director of NCCAM.

NCCAM and the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements establish the first Dietary Supplements Research Centers with an emphasis on botanicals.

September 2000 – NCCAM's first strategic plan is published, Expanding Horizons of Healthcare: Five-Year Strategic Plan 2001-2005.

February 2001 – NCCAM and the National Library of Medicine launch CAM on PubMed, a comprehensive Internet source of research-based information on CAM.

April 2001 – The Division of Intramural Research is established.

April 2002 – Results of NCCAM's first clinical trial, of St. John's wort for major depression, are released.

June 2002 – NCCAM's first intramural study, of electroacupuncture to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea, is launched.

July 2002 – NCCAM initiates a new lecture series at NIH, "Distinguished Lectures in the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine."

NCCAM Legislative Chronology

October 1991 – Public Law 102-170 provided $2 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish an office and advisory panel to recommend a research program that would investigate promising unconventional medical practices.

June 1993 – Public Law 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, established the OAM within the Office of the Director of NIH. The purpose of the Office was to facilitate the evaluation of alternative medical treatment modalities and to disseminate information to the public via an information clearinghouse.

October 1998 – Public Law 105-277, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, elevated the status and expanded the mandate of the OAM by authorizing the establishment of the NCCAM. This act amended Title IV of the Public Health Service Act.

Biographical Sketch of NCCAM Director Stephen E. Straus, M.D.

Dr. Stephen E. Straus was appointed the first director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) on October 6, 1999. Dr. Straus received his B.S. in life sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968 and his M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1972. His postgraduate training included an internship and residency in medicine at Barnes Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, and a fellowship in infectious disease at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Straus is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases.

Dr. Straus began his NIH career in 1973 as a research associate in the National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and he returned to NIAID in 1979 upon completion of his training in St. Louis. In pursuit of his research interests in molecular biology, pathophysiology, and treatment and prevention of human viral and immunological diseases, Dr. Straus has conducted both basic and clinical research. Dr. Straus has published close to 400 research articles and edited several books. While at NIAID, he assumed progressively higher levels of leadership, serving first as senior investigator and subsequently as Head of the Medical Virology Section in the Institute's Laboratory of Clinical Investigation and then as Chief of the Laboratory. He holds the position of senior investigator at NIAID concurrently with the Directorship of NCCAM.

Among Dr. Straus's accomplishments is his demonstration that acyclovir suppresses recurrent genital and oral herpes and the characterization of a previously unrecognized genetically determined disease, the autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome. The recipient in 1999 of the Dutch National ME Fund Award (the leading national prize from the Netherlands for research in myalgic encephelomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), Dr. Straus has been recognized by election to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Association of American Physicians, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is a recipient of five medals and other commendations from the U.S. Public Health Service, including the Distinguished Service Medal for innovative clinical research and the DHHS Secretary's Distinguished Service Award for drafting the blueprint to reinvigorate clinical research at the NIH. He serves on the editorial boards of several scientific journals, including the Journal of Virology and Virology.

Major Offices and Divisions

The Office of the Director plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the development of programs and activities of the Center. This office also coordinates the activities of congressionally mandated committees and advisory councils. Within the Office of the Director:

  • The Office of Science Policy and Operations provides planning for and evaluation of the Center's scientific initiatives and operating programs. In addition, the Office oversees NCCAM's chartered committees, congressional testimony, and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

  • The Office of Communications and Public Liaison handles activities pertaining to the dissemination of information about NCCAM and CAM. Its work includes operating the Information Clearinghouse, serving as liaison with the media, and implementing education and outreach initiatives.

  • The Office of Administrative Operations is responsible for financial management, administrative operations, and grants management, including the design and implementation of innovative business and management systems.

The Division of Extramural Research and Training is primarily responsible for scientific management of NCCAM's portfolio of Federally supported research grants and fellowships. In addition, the Division:

  • Provides guidance in developing research, research training, and career development programs;

  • Designs and develops specific CAM research projects, announced through such mechanisms as Requests for Applications (RFAs); and

  • Coordinates with other components of NIH in research endeavors.

Within the Division, three offices have a specialized focus:

  • The Office of Special Populations oversees NCCAM's activities pertaining to the Department of Health and Human Services' Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health.
  • The Office of International Health Research oversees NCCAM's global scientific research activities.
  • The Office of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs helps plan, coordinate, and monitor NCCAM's clinical trials; serves as a resource for investigators; and oversees staff and grantee compliance with all Federal guidelines pertaining to research using human subjects.

The Division of Intramural Research conducts clinical, translational, and basic research on the efficacy, safety, and mechanisms of action of diverse CAM modalities; facilitates integration of effective CAM and conventional practices into the interdisciplinary health care system at the NIH Clinical Center; and fosters development of research and training curricula that include information about safe and effective CAM and conventional practices.

The Office of Scientific Review is responsible for the peer review of solicited investigator-initiated, fellowship, career-development, training, program, and center grants and contracts.

This page was last reviewed on June 21, 2005 .

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