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What is NIH?

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The NIH Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Source:

The young Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun probably would not have predicted the staggering outcome of his efforts as he focused his microscope on a comma-shaped cholera bacterium in 1887.

In less than a century, Dr. Kinyoun’s efforts to improve public health evolved from his one-room laboratory in Staten Island, New York into the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the world’s top medical institutions and the focal point for medical research in the United States.

Today the NIH encompasses 27 different institutions. Each institution specializes in a field of medicine, a public health concern, or a population with special medical issues. Areas of special focus include:

  • teen health

  • mental health

  • aging, and

  • wellness and lifestyle.


Institutes are also designated for specialties within body systems, such as the:

  • National Eye Institute,

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 

NIH explores both exotic and life-threatening diseases and the relatively harmless problems such as the common cold. The institutes develop new methods to detect, diagnose, prevent, and treat diseases and disabilities.

A major goal for the NIH is to enhance and better lives in the USA and around the world by educating the public about health. The NIH's Division for Clinical Research Resources includes the SEPA Program, which funds projects to improve science literacy throughout the nation.

SEPA (Science Education Partnership Awards) connects biomedical and behavioral researchers with educators and community groups. These partnerships create effective programs which educate the public about health issues, lifestyle choices, and career opportunities in science.


SEPA has funded two previous Wheeling University sim projects, and the current Natural Disasters & Health project which increases middle school students’ knowledge of injuries due to natural disasters such as forest fires, floods, eruptions, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. Natural Disasters & Health also addresses career awareness of biomedical fields and will hopefully influence the future of public health through students developing a greater understanding of disease and the process of diagnosing and treating diseases.


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