NIH Clinical Center celebrates 60 years of research

September / October 2013 | Volume 12, Issue 5

From developing the first successful chemotherapy for tumors to administering the initial treatment for AIDS, there are countless reasons to celebrate the NIH Clinical Center's groundbreaking research, said its director, Dr. John I. Gallin, in recent comments hailing the Center's 60-year anniversary.

From the outset, the Center encouraged clinical and bench scientists to share ideas and conduct crosscutting research - collaboration that was once uncommon. Nearly a half million study participants have been partners in medical discovery, including many with under-researched, rare medical conditions.

Banner: reads 60 years – 1953 2013 – NIH Clinical Center, image of hospital

Initially, scientists at the Center directed efforts at fighting cancer, heart disease and other major killers in the U.S., recording achievements such as the first successful chemotherapy treatment for a solid tumor (1957) and producing evidence to support new national guidelines on preventing and treating heart disease (1973). The focus then expanded to include a wide range of diseases and cutting-edge technologies. Among more recent breakthroughs are use of magnetic resonance imaging technology to diagnose coronary artery disease (1984) and development of gene therapy (1990).

Clinical Center collaborations have played a key role in HIV/AIDS research. Early on, its scientists launched a study of immunoregulatory defects seen in the new disease. They subsequently helped demonstrate that zidovudine (AZT) was efficacious in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Researchers have also worked on ways to detect HIV and hepatitis viruses in blood, improving the safety of blood supplies around the world.

Young man in hospital bed wearing gown, with tubes in nose and no hair, female medical workers stands on each side
Photo courtesy of the
Clinical Center/NIH

The NIH's Clinical Center is
celebrating 60 years of scientific
progress.

In recent years, the Center has embraced the task of researching rare diseases, which are seldom studied anywhere else. By working on these neglected conditions, scientists enhance understanding of more common diseases as well. Currently there are about 1,500 clinical studies in progress at the Center involving patients from across the U.S. and around the world.

Key to the Center's success is its philosophy of giving its in-house basic scientists and clinical researchers the leeway to follow their interests. It is also primed to change direction depending on medical needs. As Dr. David Henderson, deputy director for clinical care, commented in a brochure, "The great thing about the Clinical Center is that it can turn on a dime. You could say, 'This is a national public health problem, deal with it,' and we could figure out how to restructure our resources and get started the next day."

The Center also offers cutting edge training opportunities, both on the NIH campus and globally. It partners with Fogarty to offer bioethics resources, a unique tool especially useful for scientists in developing countries.

Gallin said the Center is set to continue along its path of "leading the nation and the world in making groundbreaking scientific discoveries that improve the lives of patients and their families, training our next generation of physician-scientists, and working together and sharing what we have learned with colleagues across the country and around the world."

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