National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)


The mission of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)  is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.

NCCIH's programs and organization incorporate three scientific and two cross-cutting objectives:

  • Advance fundamental science and methods development
  • Improve care for hard-to-manage symptoms
  • Foster health promotion and disease prevention
  • Enhance the complementary and integrative health research workforce
  • Disseminate objective evidence-based information on complementary and integrative health interventions.

The Center’s top research priorities include nonpharmacologic management of pain; neurobiological effects and mechanisms as related to complementary health approaches; innovative approaches for establishing biological signatures of natural products; disease prevention and health promotion across the lifespan; innovatively designed clinical trials to assess complementary approaches and their integration into health care; and communications strategies and tools to enhance scientific literacy and understanding of clinical research.

NCCIH sponsors and conducts research, using scientific methods and advanced technologies, at scientific institutions in the United States and around the world. Examples of studies include investigator-initiated and NCCIH-solicited projects, intramural research, basic mechanistic research, translational research, clinical trials, and research centers.

NCCIH also disseminates authoritative information through many avenues, including:

Important Events in NCCIH History

October 1991 — The U.S. Congress passes legislation (Public Law 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.

October 1992 — Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs is appointed first Director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM).

June 1993 — The NIH 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.

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 — Dr. William R. Harlan is named Acting Director of NCCAM.

February 1999 — The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) signs the organizational change memorandum creating NCCAM and making it the 25th independent component of NIH.

May 1999 — The NCCAM Trans-Agency CAM Coordinating Committee is established by the NCCAM Director to foster the Center's collaboration across the HHS and other Federal agencies.

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

October 1999 — Dr. Stephen E. Straus is appointed the first Director of NCCAM.

September 2000 — NCCAM publishes its first strategic plan, Expanding Horizons of Health Care.

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

May 2004 — NCCAM and the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce findings from the largest nationally representative survey to date on Americans' use of complementary health approaches. The data is from an NCCAM-funded supplement to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

January 2005 — The National Academies' Institute of Medicine releases a report, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, requested by NCCAM and Federal partners.

February 2005 — NCCAM publishes its second strategic plan, Expanding Horizons of Health Care: Strategic Plan 2005-2009.

November 2006 — The Center's founding Director, Dr. Stephen E. Straus, steps down and becomes Senior Advisor to NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein is named Acting Director of NCCAM.

May 2007 — NCCAM establishes a Complementary and Integrative Medicine Consult Service at the NIH Clinical Center.

January 2008 — Dr. Josephine P. Briggs is named second Director of NCCAM.

December 2008 — The 2007 NHIS yields the first nationally representative data on children's use of complementary health approaches and on trends in adults' use of those approaches.

February 2009 — NCCAM marks its 10th anniversary with a year of special events, including the inaugural Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and NCCAM's 10th Anniversary Research Symposium.

July 2009 — The 2007 NHIS yields the first nationally representative data on Americans' spending on complementary health approaches.

February 2011 — NCCAM releases its third strategic plan, Exploring the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Third Strategic Plan 2011–2015.

July 2012 — M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., is appointed scientific director of a new, state-of-the-art NIH research program headquartered in NCCAM’s intramural division and focusing upon the role of the brain in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain.

September 2012 — Funding is announced for the first year of the NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory, a program of the NIH Common Fund. The Collaboratory engages large health-care systems as research partners in conducting large-scale clinical studies. Dr. Briggs is its co-leader at NIH, and NCCAM is the project’s administrative lead as well as a major scientific contributor.

June 2014 — NCCAM’s Division of Extramural Research and Division of Intramural Research are reorganized into branches. Extramural branches are the Basic and Mechanistic Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch and the Clinical Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch. Intramural branches are The Laboratory of Clinical Investigations Branch, which includes the Affective Neuroscience and the Sensory Testing and Imaging sections, and the Pain and Integrative Neuroscience Branch, which includes three sections: Rodent Behavior and Imaging; Behavioral, Neurocircuitry, and Cellular Plasticity; and Somatosensory Cells and Circuits.

September  2014 — In collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, NCCAM awards 13 research projects for study of nondrug approaches to address pain and related conditions in the U.S. military, veterans, and their families.

December 2014 — In an omnibus budget measure signed by President Obama, Congress changes NCCAM’s name to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). The change is made to more accurately reflect the Center’s research commitment to studying promising health approaches already in use by the American public.

September 2015 — NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., appoints Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., as interim director of the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative® Cohort Program, a position she holds concurrently with the Directorship of NCCIH. The PMI Cohort Program will seek to extend precision medicine to all diseases by building a national research cohort of one million or more U.S. participants.

September 2016 — Mayo Clinic Proceedings publishes a review by several NCCIH staff scientists of U.S clinical trials on the effectiveness and safety of popular complementary health approaches in their use for chronic-pain conditions commonly seen by U.S. primary-care providers. The authors find that a number of complementary approaches appear to be effective tools for managing these conditions, thus offering some additional options beyond drugs for pain management.  

September 2017 - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announce the NIH-DoD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory, an initiative modeled on the NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory. NCCIH serves as the lead agency and contributes more than half the funding in this interagency partnership for testing cost-effective, large-scale, real-world research projects in military and veteran health care delivery organizations.

October 2017 — The Center's Director, Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, steps down and becomes editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN)Dr. David Shurtleff is named Acting Director of NCCIH.

October 2017 – “Know the Science,” an NCCIH initiative to clarify and explain scientific topics related to health research, is launched. Materials are designed to provide content and engagement for consumers so that they can get to know the science ¾not only on topics in complementary and integrative health but those common to all areas of health research.

June 2018 - NCCIH releases its first mobile app, HerbList™, which provides science-based information on safety and effectiveness of herbs and herbal products.

NCCIH 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 NCCAM. This act amended Title IV of the Public Health Service Act.

December 2014 — An omnibus appropriations bill, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, was signed by President Obama and included a provision to change NCCAM’s name to NCCIH.

Biographical Sketch of NCCIH Acting Director David Shurtleff, Ph.D. 

David Shurtleff, Ph.D., is Acting Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading Federal agency for research on integrative and complementary health practices. Prior to his current position, he served as Deputy Director of NCCIH from 2013 to 2017.

Dr. Shurtleff’s career at the NIH has focused on providing leadership and fostering an extensive research portfolio in the basic behavioral and neurosciences—cognitive studies, behavioral economics, decision theory, and risk-taking—and a broad spectrum of research that has contributed to cutting-edge research related to drug abuse, addiction, and their treatment. Dr. Shurtleff came to NCCIH from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where he served as the Acting Deputy Director. At NIDA, he helped develop, implement, and manage the Institute’s broad grant portfolio covering basic cellular, molecular, and systems neurobiology as well as behavior, treatment, medication development, clinical neuroscience, clinical trials, prevention, and health services research.

Dr. Shurtleff began his career at NIDA as a health scientist administrator in the Behavioral Sciences Research Branch (1995 to 1997). He then became Acting Deputy Director of NIDA’s Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research (1997 to 2000) and later the Division’s Deputy Director (2000 to 2001). From 2001 to 2011, Dr. Shurtleff served as the Director of NIDA’s Division of Basic Neuroscience and Behavioral Research.

Prior to joining NIDA, Dr. Shurtleff was a research psychologist at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, where he conducted basic behavioral, electrophysiological, cognitive, and field research on a variety of issues related to cognitive performance, environmental stress, and peripheral neuropathy. He also served as a research fellow at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the Department of Medical Neurosciences.

Dr. Shurtleff holds a B.S. degree from the University of Massachusetts. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in experimental psychology from American University. Among his many honors and awards are the NIH Director’s Award for outstanding leadership, vision, dedication, and oversight in developing the NIH Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Grand Challenge, and the NIH Director’s Award for outstanding contributions to the development and advancement of diverse programs in basic neuroscience and behavioral research.

NCCIH Directors

Name In Office from To
William R. Harlan (Acting) January 1999 October 1999
Stephen E. Straus October 1999 November 2006
Ruth L. Kirschstein (Acting) November 2006 January 2008
Josephine P. Briggs January 2008 October 2017
David Shurtleff (Acting) October 2017 Present


The Center is organized into 9 major offices and divisions.

The Office of the Director plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the development of programs and activities of the Center. Within the Office:

  • The Office of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs plans, coordinates, and monitors NCCIH's clinical trials, serving as a resource for investigators and helping to ensure the safety of trials; oversees the Center's Data Safety Monitoring Board; and ensures compliance with Institutional Review Board and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.
  • The Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation reports on NCCIH's scientific initiatives and programs, and oversees congressional testimony and the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
  • The Office of Communications and Public Liaison handles activities pertaining to the dissemination of information about NCCIH and complementary and alternative medicine. Its work includes maintaining the Center's website, 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 the design and implementation of innovative business and management systems.

The Division of Extramural Activities develops, implements, and coordinates extramural programs and policies within NCCIH. It also coordinates meetings of NCCIH's advisory council and manages the Center's committee management activities. Within the Division, two Offices have a specialized focus:

The Division of Extramural Research develops and oversees NCCIH-funded research and research training programs conducted across the country and around the world. The Division also coordinates research efforts with other NIH Institutes and Centers, and exercises leadership in a number of trans-NIH activities such as the NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory. The Division’s two branches are the Basic and Mechanistic Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch and the Clinical Research in Complementary and Integrative Health Branch. Staff provide guidance regarding NCCIH research interests and priorities, and funding mechanisms and opportunities. Periodically, they offer educational activities regarding grantsmanship, such as webinars and workshops.

The Division of Intramural Research conducts basic, clinical, and translational research focusing on the role of the brain in perceiving, managing, and modifying pain. The Division has two branches:

  • The Laboratory of Clinical Investigations Branch, which includes the Affective Neuroscience and Pain section and the Sensory Testing and Imaging section;
  • The Pain and Integrative Neuroscience Branch, which includes the following sections: Rodent Behavior and Imaging; Behavioral, Neurocircuitry, and Cellular Plasticity; and Somatosensory Cells and Circuits.

In addition, the Division coordinates an NIH lecture series on pain, and is active in the trans-NIH Pain Scientific Interest Group. A second group of lectures, the NCCIH Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series, provides overviews of current research and practice in integrative medicine.

This page last reviewed on June 19, 2018