For more than 50 years, NICHD has supported and conducted research on the processes of human development and how they affect health, from pre-pregnancy through adulthood. The history of NICHD is not a series of solitary endeavors; instead, NICHD is, and has always been, a family—a whole that is truly the sum of its unique and extraordinary parts.
Even as NICHD continues to advance the health of children, adults, families, and communities well into the future, it is important to recognize and reflect on the events of the past.
A list of NICHD Directors is available at the NIH Almanac.
Congress passed the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Act of 1974, directing NICHD to take the lead in SIDS research. NICHD-funded researchers also developed the first test to screen for congenital hypothyroidism from a drop of infant's blood.
Research conducted by NICHD and other researchers led the U.S. Surgeon General to issue the warning now seen on alcoholic beverages that informs consumers of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. NICHD also formed two research networks—the Neonatal Intensive Care Units and the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units.
Using brain imaging technology, NICHD-funded researchers identified the brain regions underlying dyslexia. In addition, the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research was established within NICHD to conduct and support programs for the rehabilitation, health, and well-being of people with physical disabilities.
NICHD is renamed the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to honor Mrs. Shriver's role in the establishment of the institute. NICHD's Women's Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences Study also found no lifelong association between oral contraception use and a higher risk of breast cancer.
The Infant Brain Imaging Study, funded through the Autism Centers of Excellence program, finds that patterns of brain development in the first 2 years of life are distinct in children who are later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. NICHD also launches DS-Connect®: The Down Syndrome Registry and the Human Placenta Project.
As the world changes rapidly to deal with COVID-19, NICHD staff and researchers remain committed to advancing health by bolstering efforts to reduce maternal death and illness, leading a trans-NIH initiative to study Down syndrome, and conducting and supporting critical research on COVID-19 in priority populations.