Timeline: 1970-1979

The 1970s

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The NICHD’s Epidemiology and Biometry Branch, created during the Institute’s second reorganization in 1967, becomes the Epidemiology and Biometry Research Program. The change allows the Program to conduct epidemiologic, behavioral, and biometric studies relating to reproductive, maternal, and child health.

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Craig Ramey, Ph.D.NICHD-supported researcher Craig Ramey, Ph.D., develops the Abecedarian (ABC) Project, a widely cited study that documents the long-lasting benefits of early childhood education and health care for children in poverty.

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AntibodyGerald M. Edelman, M.D., Ph.D.—supported by the NICHD, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)—wins the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rodney R. Porter, Ph.D., for their discoveries concerning the chemical structure of antibodies.

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Excerpt from Public Law 93-270Congress passes the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-270), directing the NICHD to take the lead in SIDS research.

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Mother and childThe NICHD establishes the Center for Research for Mothers and Children (CRMC) as the focal point within the Institute for research and research training on the special health problems of mothers and children. The Center has responsibility for increasing knowledge about pregnancy, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and for administering grant and contract programs related to these areas.

The Adult Development and Aging Branch and the Gerontology Research Center, with their programs to support and conduct research in the field of aging, are transferred from the NICHD to the new National Institute on Aging (NIA).

Results from the NICHD’s National Amniocentesis Study—led by Charles Lowe, M.D., and Duane Alexander, M.D., who would later serve as NICHD Director show that amniocentesis is 99 percent accurate and does not significantly increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects, making widespread use of the prenatal diagnostic procedure possible.

Thyroid testThe first rudimentary test to screen for congenital hypothyroidism from a drop of infant’s blood is developed. Congenital hypothyroidism is a metabolic condition resulting from the loss of thyroid function, which, if left untreated in infants, causes irreversible mental retardation. The test is the culmination of an intensive effort by NICHD-supported researcher Delbert Fisher, M.D., and his colleagues to develop sensitive methods to measure hormones in the blood and to characterize thyroid metabolism in the fetus and newborn infant.

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Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D.Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D., and Andrew Schally, Ph.D., M.D.H.C., D.Sc.H.C.—leaders of two independent teams of researchers funded by the NICHD and other organizations—win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work in identifying luteinizing hormone releasing factor (now called gonadotropin-releasing hormone) and other releasing hormones produced by the hypothalamus. This discovery leads to new understanding and treatments for thyroid diseases, infertility, diabetes, types of tumors, and other disorders.

Judith Vaitukaitis, M.D.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the home pregnancy test, which was developed as a direct result of research conducted by NICHD intramural researcher Judith Vaitukaitis, M.D. She identifies the beta subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin as the earliest marker of pregnancy, which leads to the development of the first standard home pregnancy test and a monitor for response to cancer treatment.

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Mammalian geneNICHD intramural researchers become the first to successfully clone a mammalian gene, a critical first step in obtaining large amounts of medically important proteins.

Edward Lewis, Ph.D.Edward Lewis, Ph.D., supported by the NICHD, publishes his seminal paper on the discovery of homeotic genes in the fruit fly. In the paper, he establishes that the order of genes on the chromosome corresponds to their order of expression along the body axis. This pioneering work induces other scientists to examine analogous genes in higher organisms, including humans, in which the gene clusters he found have been duplicated into four complexes known as the HOX genes. Dr. Lewis’ work provides insight into the control of embryonic development and the causes of structural birth defects. Dr. Lewis would later receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1995 for his discovery.

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