The agency encompasses 27 separate institutes, like the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, which carry thousands of study projects across the United States.
NIH Director Francis Collins was keen to highlight the agency’s innovative achievements throughout congressional hearings this week amid mounting questions regarding the concept that COVID-19 could have escaped from the Wuhan lab last year.
The Biden administration has introduced a new high-risk, high-reward disease investigation agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health under the NIH, in which researchers will produce breakthrough treatments for cancer and Alzheimer's, as well as other serious and badly understood health conditions. Details of the new agency are scarce, though there are some standout NIH products of interest:
A team of researchers led by Dr. Nickolas Papadopoulos of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine produced a blood test that measures DNA and proteins in the blood to screen for many types of cancers at once to complement colonoscopies, mammographies, and other cancer screening tools. In the NIH-funded study performed last year, the CancerSEEK blood test identified 26 cancers among about 10,000 women with no past or signs of cancer. Fourteen of those cancers were in organs such as the ovaries, kidneys, and the lymphatic system, for which there are no approved screening tests. CancerSEEK further identified nine cancers before they had spread from their original location in the body.
Microneedle patch flu vaccine
A team of chemical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University developed a less invasive delivery system for the seasonal flu shot by eliminating the shot. The researchers enveloped a concentrated version of the flu vaccine in conical microneedles on a thin adhesive that gives the vaccine painlessly through the skin. This delivery system further reduces waste in the form of needles and other biohazards that need specific disposal requirements, according to Dr. Mark Prausnitz, a chemical engineer at Georgia Tech who led the team developing the patch.
The NIH has helped fund many studies into how esketamine, a variant of the club drug ketamine, can treat symptoms of harsh depression and stress. In 2019, for example, the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health funded a study led by Dr. Conor Liston of Weill Cornell Medicine to estimate the benefit of treating chronic anxiety in mice using ketamine. The team studied neurons in the prefrontal cortex of mice exposed to long-term stressors before and after treatment with the synthetic ketamine and discovered the drug returned the normal coordinated activity of neural circuits in the mices’ brains that were intruded by long-term stress.