Institutes and Research Divisions
National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development

Mission

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) seeks to assure that every individual is born healthy, is born wanted, and has the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential for a healthy and productive life unhampered by disease or disability. In pursuit of this mission, the NICHD conducts and supports laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological research on the reproductive, neurobiologic, developmental, and behavioral processes that determine and maintain the health of children, adults, families, and populations. The institute administers a multidisciplinary program of research, research training, and public information, nationally and within its own facilities, on reproductive biology and population issues on embryonic development as well as maternal, child and family health and on medical rehabilitation.

(NICHD) programs are based on the concepts that adult health and well- being are determined in large part by episodes early in life, that human development is continuous throughout life, and that the reproductive processes and the management of fertility are of major concern, not only to the individual, but to society. The institute holds the tenet that when disease, injury, or a chronic disorder intervenes in the developmental process, it is incumbent to restore or maximize individual potential and functional capacity.

The institute supports and conducts basic, clinical, and epidemiological research in the reproductive sciences to develop knowledge enabling men and women to regulate their fertility in ways that are safe, effective, and acceptable to various population groups, and to overcome problems of infertility. The purposes of institute-sponsored behavioral and social science research in the population field are to understand the causes and consequences of reproductive behavior and population change.

Research for mothers, children and families is designed to advance knowledge of pregnancy, fetal development, and birth to develop strategies to prevent infant and childhood mortality to identify and promote the prerequisites of optimal physical, mental and behavioral growth and development through infancy, childhood, and adolescence and to contribute to the prevention and amelioration of mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Much of this research focuses on the disciplines of cellular, molecular, and developmental biology to elucidate the mechanisms and interactions that guide a single fertilized egg cell through it development into a multicellular, highly organized adult organism.

Medical rehabilitation research is designed to develop improved techniques and technologies with respect to the rehabilitation of individuals with physical disabilities resulting from diseases, disorders, injuries, or birth defects. Research training is an area supported across all NICHD research programs, with the intent of adding to the cadre of trained professionals available to conduct research in areas of critical public health concern.

An overarching responsibility of the NICHD is to disseminate information emanating from institute research programs to researchers, practitioners and other health professionals, and to the general public.

 

Important Events in NICHD History January 12, 1961--The report of the Task Force on Health and Social Security called for establishing, by administrative action of the Surgeon General, a National Institute of Child Health within the NIH.

January 30, 1961--The DHEW general counsel declared 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 was established by the Surgeon General in the Division of General Medical Sciences.

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

January 30, 1963--Secretary of HEW Anthony J. Celebrezze approved establishment of the NICHD, with 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--Members of the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council were appointed by the Surgeon General.

November 14, 1963--The first meeting of the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council was held November 14C0916.

December 2, 1965--A major NICHD reorganization, approved by the Surgeon General, gave emphasis to four program areas: reproduction, growth and development, aging, and mental retardation. At the same time, significant additions were made to the intramural program with the transfer to the NICHD of the National Heart Institute”s Gerontology Branch in Baltimore and the major part of the National Cancer Institute”s Endocrinology Branch located in the Clinical Center.

April 18, 1967--A second reorganization of the NICHD approved by the Surgeon General acknowledged the institute’s intramural research programs by separating responsibility for intramural and extramural research and creating seven intramural laboratories: Gerontology Research Center (Baltimore) Developmental Biology Branch Social and Behavioral Sciences Branch Reproduction Research Branch Laboratory of Biomedical Sciences Behavioral Biology Branch and Children’s Diagnostic and Study Branch. The reorganization also brought the NICHD administrative structure into line with that of the other institutes.

June 15, 1968--The $7.5 million, four-story Gerontology Research Center building located at and operated in cooperation with the Baltimore City Hospitals, Baltimore, Md., was officially opened.

August 9, 1968--The Center for Population Research was established by the DHEW secretary within the NICHD. The center is responsible for a contract and grant program in population and reproduction research and has been designated by the President as the Federal agency primarily responsible for population research and training.

May 27, 1975--The Center for Research for Mothers and Children was established. It is the Federal Government’s focal point for research and research training on the special health problems of mothers and children, with 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, were transferred from the NICHD to the new National Institute on Aging.

July 1, 1975--Congress endorsed the major research programs of the Center for Research for Mothers and Children, a mechanism initiated by Dr. Kretchmer to promote and support research in perinatal medicine in areas not sufficiently addressed. Such areas include maternal diabetes, premature labor, low birth weight infants, and developmental conditions contributing to sudden infant death syndrome.

September 20, 1982--NICHD celebrated its 20th anniversary at the 58th meeting of the National Child Health Advisory Council. Dr. Aldrich, the first NICHD director, was a featured speaker.

Four former patients and their families who have benefitted from medical advances resulting from NICHD-supported research also attended. Their case histories illustrated two decades of research progress in: prevention of mental retardation by early identification of certain metabolic disorders through routine screening of newborns; diagnosis and treatment of male infertility; diagnosis, treatment and reversal of precocious puberty; and management of multiple medical problems of infants born prematurely or of low birth weight.

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

September 21, 1987--NICHD celebrated its 25th anniversary at the 73rd meeting of the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council meeting. Dr. Alexander presented the institute’s past directors--Drs. Aldrich, Harting, LaVeck and Kretchmer--who spoke about research high-lights and anecdotes of their tenure at NICHD.

Dr. Robert E. Cooke, who was the prime mover behind the creation of NICHD, reflected on the “Conceptualization, Gestation, and Birth of a New Institute.” Dr. Alexander presented plaques of appreciation to three of NICHD's long-term grantees: Nobelist Dr. Stanley Cohen, a biochemist at Vanderbilt University; Dr. Maria New of Cornell University Medical Center, a pioneer researcher in congenital adrenal hyperplasia; and Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins University, a specialist in psychosexual development.

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

September 1990--The institute began a congressionally initiated national program of Child Health Research Centers. Their goal is to expedite the application of findings from basic research to the care of sick children.

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

September 1992--The National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research funded its first research grants. These were in the areas of improving mobility, the study and enhancement of reproductive function of persons with physical disabilities, and the development of technological devices to improve the quality of the lives of people with disabilities. These grants join the portfolio of research training grants previously funded by the center.

Director's of NICHD

NameDate of Birth Dates of Office
From
To
Robert A. AldrichDec. 13, 1917 Mar. 1, 1963October 1964
Donald Harting1922July 8, 19651966
Gerald D. LaVeckApr. 19, 1927Oct. 9, 1966Sept. 1, 1973
Gilbert L. Woodside (Acting)Sept. 1, 1973Sept. 1, 1974
Norman KretchmerJan. 20, 1923 Sept. 1, 1974Sept. 30, 1981
Betty H. Pickett (Acting)Sept. 30, 1981 June 30, 1982
Mortimer B. LipsettJuly 1, 1982Jan. 7, 1985
Duane AlexanderFeb. 5, 1986

NICHD Legislative Chronology

October 17, 1962--Public Law 87-838 authorized the Surgeon General, with approval of the secretary, to “establish in the Public Health Service 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 provided grants to help pay for constructing research centers on mental retardation and related disability. 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 added Title X to the Public Health Service Act authorizing grants and contracts for research and research training in family planning and population problems. The authority was delegated by the secretary of health, education and welfare to the NICHD where the program is administered by the Center for Population Research.

April 22, 1974--Public Law 93-270 assigned to the HEW secretary and ultimately to the NICHD the task of conducting research on sudden infant death syndrome and reporting on it to the Congress.

July 29, 1975--Title II of P.L. 94-63, the Family Planning and Population Research Act of 1975, amended Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Thereafter the PHS could conduct as well as support population research, and Title X became the sole authority for population research appropriations.

August 13, 1981--The Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, P.L. 97-35, repealed sections 1004(b)(1) and 1004(b)(2) of the Public Health Service Act. Authority for supporting research in human reproduction and the population sciences now derives from the broad provisions of section 301 and 441 of the PHS act.

November 20, 1985--The Health Extension Act of 1985 directed 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, P.L. 101-613, established the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research. The center will conduct and support programs with respect to the rehabilitation of individuals with physical disabilities resulting from congenital defects, diseases or disorders of the neurological, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary or any other physiological system.

 

Biographical Sketch of NICHD Director

Duane Alexander, M.D.

Dr. Alexander was named NICHD director on February 5, 1986, after serving as acting director when Dr. Lipsett left the institute.

Dr. Alexander, a pediatrician, had been NICHD deputy director for 3 years and an assistant to the director since 1978.

Much of his career has been centered at the NICHD. With the exception of several special assignments, he has been with the NICHD since 1968, following his residency in the department of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He came to NICHD as a clinical associate in the Children's Diagnostic and Study Branch.

Following Dr. Alexander's assignment in that branch, he returned to Hopkins as a fellow in pediatrics (developmental disabilities) at the John F. Kennedy Institute for Habilitation of the Mentally and Physically Handicapped Child.

He returned to the NICHD in 1971 as assistant to the scientific director. In that capacity, he directed the NICHD National Amniocentesis Study that established the safety and accuracy of amniocentesis for prenatal diagnosis. That test is 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 Department of Health and Human Services. He also was the physician on the staff of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The commission's recommendations are the basis for current DHHS regulations for the protection of human subjects in research.

An officer in the PHS, he has received several PHS awards. These include a Commendation Medal in 1970, a Meritorious Service Medal and a Special Recognition Award in 1985, and the Surgeon General's Exemplary Service Medal in 1990.

Dr. Alexander received his undergraduate degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1962 and his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1966. He also served his internship at Hopkins.

A diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Developmental Pediatrics and the Association for Retarded Citizens, he is the author of numerous papers and book chapters, most relating to his research interests in developmental disabilities.

 

Organization

The NICHD has six major components--the Center for Research for Mothers and Children, the Center for Population Research, and the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research, all extramural programs supporting research through grants and contracts the Division of Intramural Research the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Preventive Research and the Division of Scientific Review.

Center for Research for Mothers and Children

The Endocrinology, Nutrition and Growth Branch supports research on the nutritional needs of pregnant women, fetuses, and children and on the interrelationships of nutrition, endocrinology, and growth and development. The branch also focuses on nutritional and hormonal aspects of growth and development, both the normal and abnormal biological development of the fetus and infant, and on the effects of perinatal conditions and events on development.

The Human Learning and Behavior Branch is concerned with the development of human behavior, from infancy, through childhood and adolescence, into early maturity. Studies are supported in developmental psychobiology, behavioral pediatrics, cognitive and communicative processes, social and affective development and health-related behaviors, as well as learning disabilities, dyslexia, language disorders, day care and unintentional injuries.

The Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Branch focuses on the etiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental retardation and related disabilities, examining the biomedical, behavioral and social processes involved. The branch also supports 14 Mental Retardation Research Centers where research is conducted on mental retardation and related aspects of human development.

The Developmental Biology, Genetics and Teratology Branch develops and supports research and research training in the etiology of congenital malformations. The branch also examines gene transfer, the genetic basis of human development, and the development of the immune system.

The Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch studies research related to pregnancy and maternal health, embryonic development, fetal growth, and infant well-being. The branch also supports research on high-risk pregnancies, low birth weight, premature birth, perinatal pharmacology and toxicology, sudden infant death syndrome, exercise during pregnancy, and the impact of conditions and/or treatments during pregnancy such as antibiotics, analgesics, anesthetics, drug use and addiction, cigarette smoking, obesity and infections on the outcome of pregnancy.

The Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch develops and supports research on HIV infection and disease as it affects women of childbearing age, pregnant women, mothers, 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.

Center for Population Research

The Center for Population Research (CPR) conducts the Federal Government’s central effort in population research. Through grants and contracts, the center supports:

There are four branches in the CPR. The Reproductive Sciences Branch supports fundamental biomedical research and research training in reproductive biology and medicine relevant to problems of human fertility and infertility.

The Contraceptive Development Branch supports projects aimed at developing safe and effective methods for regulating fertility in both men and women. The Contraceptive and Reproductive Evaluation Branch funds a national research program focusing on the epidemiology of reproductive health including studies of contraceptive and noncontraceptive gynecological products, medical devices, and surgical procedures.

The Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch supports studies on the social, psychological, economic and environmental factors governing population change, relationship between individual, household, and social behavior and population change.

National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research

The NCMRR funds research training and projects on restoring, replacing or enhancing the function of individuals with physical disabilities. Medical rehabilitation research is directed towards restoration or improvement of functional capability lost as a consequence of injury, disease, or congenital disorder.

The Applied Rehabilitation Medicine Research Branch supports research to develop and evaluate new physical medicine/rehabilitation techniques and methods in prosthetics, orthotics, bioengineering, and technology transfer.

The Basic Rehabilitation Medicine Research Branch supports research and training in the physical medicine/rehabilitation areas of replacement, recovery, and restoration of function in neural, muscular, cardiac, pulmonary, urinary, and other physiological systems.

Division of Intramural Research

The intramural research program conducts fundamental and clinical research at the Clinical Center and laboratories at NIH.

A limited number of research patients are admitted to the program's clinical research projects under guidelines established by the director of the Clinical Center. Patients must be referred by a physician. The DIR is broadly concerned with the biological and neurobiological, medical and behavioral aspects of normal and abnormal human development. In addition to four major clinical research and training programs in the areas of genetics, endocrinology, and maternal-fetal medicine, a diversity of developmental models are under study in 11 fundamental research laboratories and branches.

 

NICHD Appropriations -- Grants and Direct Operations
[Amounts in thousands of dollars]

Fiscal
Year
Total Grants
$
Direct Operations
$
Total
$
196432,8001,20034,000
196538,9063,79042,695
196649,7255,29955,024
196755,7109,21264,922
196856,79511,82668,621
196957,363 15,76373,126
197059,13518,05777,192
197164,15130,60994,760
197278,35638,477116,833
197389,11441,315130,429
197487,95542,309130,254
197597,84844,587142,435
197695,51840,886136,404
1977100,71744,826145,543
1978115,47150,919166,390
1979143,95154,039197,630
1980149,05259,901208,953
1981164,23356,395220,628
1982 167,22159,088226,309
1983188,94865,376254,324
1984208,51167,535276,046
1985236,54776,211312,758
1986237,29970,912308,211
1987281,41385,238366,651
1988295,537101,047396,584
1989318,567106,701425,628
1990323,156118,799441,995
1991351,031127,916478,947
1992375,522144,055518,577
1993380,059147,708527,767
1994385,700172,136554,836
1995397,494172,815570,309
1996422,865170,286592,791

 

Fundamental Research

In the laboratories of the scientific director, the section on viruses and cellular biology studies the molecular events which influence the fidelity of the genome, facilitating both evolution and species stability. A major objective is to elucidate the mechanisms which determine whether DNA repair is error-free or -prone in bacteria and in primate cells. The dynamics of mutagenesis are also of interest.

The section on growth factors studies the biochemical and physiological actions of nerve growth factor, a peptide required for the development of the sympathetic and sensory nervous systems.

The Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology studies cellular, membrane and molecular mechanisms that determine nervous system functions and that figure importantly in brain development and mental retardation.

The Laboratory of Molecular Genetics examines how genetic information is transferred and expressed during development in a variety of organisms from yeast to mammals.

The Laboratory of Developmental and Molecular Immunity conducts research into developmental and molecular biology of “natural” and immunization-induced immunity to bacterial and other antigens. Emphasis has been placed on the study of pathogenic mechanisms, immunoregulatory mechanisms of the host, and the development of vaccines directed against serious bacterial infections.

The Laboratory of Theoretical and Physical Biology applies mathematical, statistical, and computer-based techniques to the analysis of complex clinical, biological, and pharmacological problems.

The Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development studies fundamental questions of development, differentiation and oncogenesis. Gene regulation at specific stages of mouse development is studied. The Laboratory of Molecular Growth Regulation focuses on the control of mammalian cell growth, gene regulations and immune system function. Its goal is to understand normal control mechanisms and disorders of growth control that are manifested as cellular immortalization, transformation, or senescence.

The Laboratory of Molecular Embryology investigates the mechanisms by which gene expression is stabilized in embryogenesis. The laboratory is concerned with understanding the molecular mechanisms by which stable states of gene activity are established and maintained. Attention has been focused on germ cell-specific class II and class III genes.

The Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Neurophysiology studies how neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels regulate information processing in the central nervous system.

The Endocrinology and Reproduction Research Branch studies the secretion 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 carries out research in the areas of cell, molecular, and receptor biology. The molecular mechanisms of iron metabolism, the biology of intracellular organelles and membrane traffic, the mechanisms which regulate the fate of newly synthesized membrane proteins, the genetic response to environmental stress, and the biology of receptors central to the immune system are of interest.

Clinical Research

The Laboratory of Comparative Ethology investigates cognitive, social and motivational development in humans and in nonhuman primates. Research focuses on early environmental influences onbehavior 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 disease with emphasis on adult and pediatric reproductive endocrinology. Fundamental research focuses on endocrine and reproductive processes and gynecologic disorders. A major objective is to translate research findings into practical bedside application.

Human Genetics Branch interests range from studies on the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of genetic and developmental disorders of young people to very basic studies on eukaryotic gene expression utilizing recombinant DNA methodology. Current research projects concern lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, the mucopoly-saccharidoses, heritable disorders of the bone and connective tissue, lysosomal storage diseases (e.g., cystinosis), temperature-sensitive models of cellular differentiation, and heritable disorders of bone and connective tissue.

The Perinatal Research Branch, located in Washington, D.C., conducts clinical investigations of obstetric and neonatal conditions contributing to infant mortality. Emphasis is placed on antenatal diagnostic techniques, premature labor, and other causes of low birth weight.

Division of Epidemiology, Statistics, and Prevention Research

The division provides the institute with the skills of four disciplines: biostatistics, behavioral sciences, computer sciences, and epidemiology. 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. It also participates as a statistical unit in studies and projects of NICHD.

The Epidemiology Branch studies determinants of high risk pregnancies and of infant mortality and childhood mortality including congenital malformations. Particular attention is give to determinants which lend themselves to interventions and prevention.

The Computer Sciences Branch serves as the division's central resource for systems analysis, design and programming expertise with emphasis on the development and implementation of analysis, statistical procedures, and data processing procedures in epidemiology and biometry. It also houses the data coordinating center for the NICHD study of early child care.

The Prevention Research Branch conducts biobehavioral research to promote healthful behaviors and to prevent or ameliorate disease during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood through adolescence. The focus is the development and evaluation of interventions in health care setting and school-based programs for children and adolescents.

Division of Scientific Review

The Division of Scientific Review is responsible for a broad range of functions related to the review of research and training grant applications and research contract proposals.

The division provides policy direction and coordination for the planning and conduct of initial scientific and technical merit review of applications for various types of grants, including program projects, centers, institutional training, career development and conferences. The division serves the same function for NICHD research and development contracts in the biomedical, clinical, and behavioral sciences.