A glimpse into the life of NIH’s founder Dr. Joseph Kinyoun and a celebration of NIH's 125th birthday.
Kern: About one month from now, on August 27th, NIH will be exactly, 125 years old. Dr. David Morens, an epidemiologist and senior advisor at NIH has chronicled the triumphs and tribulations of the man who started it all, NIH's founder. Dr. Joseph Kinyoun.
Morens: Joe Kinyoun was an unknown physician, a young man in his 20s who joined the Marine Hospital Service in 1886, and set up a laboratory, one of the first microbiology laboratories in the United States and that laboratory became the National Institutes of Health.
Kern: A turning point in Dr. Kinyoun's career was his involvement in implementing public health measures in San Francisco during the plague.
Morens: The San Francisco experience was kind of the fulcrum of his life and in many ways a tragic occurrence. Because he was assigned by the US surgeon general to go to San Francisco and set up quarantine operations to prevent plague from coming in. In that role as the representative of the federal government, he essentially ran afoul of California politics. The California politics were that California was then somewhat of a cowboy state and a strong defender of state's rights against federal intervention in any sphere. When the federal government came in to institute quarantine, the California governor essentially declared war on the federal government and Kinyoun was the representative and he became the scapegoat in a big struggle between a powerful state and the federal government and he was sacrificed in that struggle.
Kern: Tensions in California ran so high, in fact, that Kinyoun had to carry a gun.
Morens: He carried a gun and he was under threat of physical harm and there was a $7000 reward for his death put out by shadowy interests in California supposedly. And he had to be protected by the police and by the United States Army. It was really a bad situation and he had to bear up under it with stoicism and tried to maintain his humanity during the whole thing.
Kern: Dr. Morens says it's difficult to pinpoint Dr. Kinyoun's greatest accomplishment because he was involved in so many different endeavors.
Morens:. He was an eclectic guy. He did a lot of different things and I would say his legacy is that he covered not only the depth but the breadth of the brand new field of microbiology. He was involved in many if not most of the major microbiology and public health infectious disease efforts of the late 19th century, everything from pasteurization of milk to clean water supply to treatment of diseases with brand new medical treatments. You know, he was not just a quarantine specialist or even a public health specialist, he was a physician who found multiple unique ways through public health and medical and immunological tools to improve life. I think that's the way he looked at it. I think he'd want to be remembered as a person who did as much as he possibly could for the general health and wellbeing of people in the United States and the world.
Kern: Recently, the exact date of the founding of the Hygienic Laboratory, which is now the National Institutes of Health was determined.
Morens: We're certain that that date is in August 1887 and we're reasonably certain it was 27 August. So NIH now has a birthday.
Kern: Dr. Morens explains why he believes that knowing NIH's birthday is important.
Morens: I think that for the public and for the scientists, knowing who we are and where we came from, you know, it's not in our mission to be historians, we're scientists and we do cutting-edge, world class science. But I think it really.. in intangible ways that are perhaps a bit hard to explain, I think that helping us know who we are, where we came from, and what our history is also helps us go forward. If we know our legacy, it inspires us and motivates us and tells us what track we've been on and it points us in the direction of where that track is going. So I think it's a positive thing to know about who we are in many respects and hopefully a little bit more knowledge of that will be inspiring to the scientists who carry us forward into this century, into the future.
Kern: For more about Dr. Kinyoun, and a recent article published in the journal mBio, visit www.niaid.nih.gov. For NIH Radio, this is Margot Kern— NIH... Turning Discovery Into Health®.