Timeline: 2000-2009

The 2000s

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Opportunity cost of capital investments funds in preschool, school, and post-school training. Graph shows that an investment at the preschool level creates a much larger return than an investment in higher schooling levels.An NICHD grantee, James J. Heckman, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago, is one of two NIH researchers to receive the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Dr. Heckman receives the prize for his pioneering work in accounting for unknown factors affecting statistical samples. Much of his work has been applied to understanding how early life events contribute to individuals’ later earning potential and economic standing.

National Reading Panel logoThe National Reading Panel, established by the NICHD, releases findings of the largest, most comprehensive, evidence-based review ever conducted of research related to how children learn to read. The independent panel concludes that the most effective way to teach children to read is through instruction that includes a combination of methods emphasizing phonemic awareness.

National Children's Study logoThe Children’s Health Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-310) designates the NICHD as the lead organization on a number of research initiatives, including establishment of a pediatric research initiative, expansion of Fragile X syndrome research activities, and authorization for the NICHD and a consortium of other federal agencies to conduct the National Children’s Study, a longitudinal study of environmental influences on child health. The Act also made provisions for expanding research related to autism spectrum disorders.

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Child in NepalA typhoid vaccine developed by NICHD scientists shows a 91.5 percent effectiveness rate in clinical trials done in Vietnam, the highest reported for any typhoid vaccine. Though only 400 cases of typhoid fever are reported in the United States annually, more than 16 million people worldwide are affected by typhoid. This highly effective vaccine could prevent the more than 600,000 deaths that result from typhoid fever every year around the world.

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NICHD scientists, in conjunction with the biologics firm Nabi, develop the first vaccine against Staphylococcus aureus, a major cause of infection and death in hospital patients. S. aureus, which can cause illness ranging from minor skin infections to life-threatening pneumonia, meningitis, and infections of the heart, attacks people with weakened immune systems. This new vaccine provides a powerful new way to prevent these infections, a finding which could save thousands of lives every year.

Findings from the NICHD’s Women’s Contraceptive and Reproductive Experiences (Women’s CARE) Study reveal no life-long association between oral contraception use and an increased risk of breast cancer after a woman stops using this form of contraception. The study, which focuses on women age 35 to 64 because they are more likely to develop breast cancer than younger women, provides scientific evidence that past or present oral contraceptive use does not significantly increase breast cancer risk.

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2003 councilThe NICHD establishes the Center for Developmental Biology and Perinatal Medicine. The Center strives to advance fundamental and clinical knowledge about maternal health and problems of child development, such as preterm birth, mental retardation and developmental disabilities, congenital and genetic disorders, fetal growth restriction, and other conditions.

NICHD 40th anniversary logoNICHD marks its 40th anniversary with a number of events. In addition to a scientific symposium featuring five Nobel laureates and six Lasker Award winners who were supported by the NICHD, the Institute establishes a Hall of Honor to recognize scientists supported by the Institute for their exceptional contributions to both science and human health. The inaugural Hall of Honor class includes 14 scientists whose contributions range from advances in in vitro culture of animal embryos to developing an effective vaccination to prevent Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) to creation of an early intervention that improves outcomes for children at risk for intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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fMRI of right and left hemispheres of brainNICHD-supported researchers demonstrate that effective reading instruction not only improves reading ability, but also changes the functioning of the brain so that it reads more efficiently. The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe brain functions in children during reading. With fMRI, the researchers could see that the brains of once-poor readers, as they overcame their reading disabilities, began to function like the brains of good readers. The findings show that the brain systems involved in reading respond to effective reading instruction and show increased activity in a part of the brain that recognizes words.

Reorganization within the NICHD’s Center for Research for Mothers and Children establishes the Obstetric and Pediatric Pharmacology Branch to meet the increased demand for research leadership and support of legislation passed to ensure the safety of drugs used to treat children. The new Branch includes the NICHD Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units Network, the Obstetric-Fetal Pharmacology Research Network, and NICHD Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act activities. The Branch provides a focus for managing efforts across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address this important topic.

The NICHD and its partner agencies announce the 96 recruitment locations for the National Children’s Study, a national, longitudinal study of environmental influences on child health mandated in the Children’s Health Act of 2000. Led by a consortium of federal agencies—including HHS (the NICHD and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [NIEHS] within the NIH as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—the National Children’s Study will be the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind.

Researchers in the NICHD Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network find that the risks from vaginal delivery after a prior Cesarean delivery are low, and are only slightly higher than for a repeat Cesarean delivery, thus clarifying the safety of vaginal birth after Cesarean. The largest, most comprehensive study of its kind indicated that, although complications (such as rupture of the uterus and infection of the uterine lining) were possible, the risk of these complications was very low. Further, the researchers note that repeat Cesarean carries its own risks, including infection and surgical complications, and that the procedure may complicate future births. The MFMU Network allows researchers to conduct large clinical trials quickly, by recruiting from multiple sites and using one protocol, providing a faster, more effective system of evaluating maternal-fetal treatments.

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NICHD-supported researchers identify a substance—placental growth factor—in the urine of pregnant women that can be measured to predict the later development of preeclampsia, the leading cause of maternal and fetal death in the United States. This finding sets the stage for the development of a test to screen women for risk of preeclampsia. Such foreknowledge will help physicians to better care for the women, possibly taking steps to prolong the pregnancy to allow the fetus to develop more, while closely monitoring them for signs that the fetus should be delivered, even prematurely, if necessary.

The Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research, funded by the NICHD and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, initiates the First Breath Project to treat newborn asphyxia, a major cause of infant death, in resource-poor settings. The new project seeks to determine if training midwives and other traditional birth attendants in standard infant resuscitation practices commonly used in the United States can reduce the death and disability from newborn asphyxia in 7 Global Network sites located in South Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The project will include nearly 80 communities and 40,000 births per year during the course of the study.

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As part of a decades-long research effort on SIDS, NICHD-funded researchers announce findings that infants who died of SIDS had abnormalities in the brainstem, a part of the brain that helps control heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, temperature, and arousal. The finding supports the concept that SIDS risk may greatly increase when an underlying predisposition combines with an environmental risk at a developmentally sensitive time in early life. Modifiable factors, such as sleep position, may provide the greatest protection against SIDS for infants with the brain abnormality.

NICHD researchers discover two genetic defects that lead to forms of osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), a disorder that weakens bones and may cause frequent fractures. The first gene discovery—a recessive form that requires two copies of the affected gene to show the trait—was implicated in a previously unexplained but fatal form of OI; the second was related to other previously unexplained forms of the disorder. Although there is no treatment for the disorder, the finding allows clinicians to test families who have lost a child to OI for the presence of the defective gene. Couples with a child affected by these forms of OI could be apprised of their risk for conceiving another child with the disorder.

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At the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Panel Review and the Board of Scientific Counselors, the NICHD Division of Intramural Research was reorganized from 22 laboratories and branches to 10 programs, along with 3 branches, 2 sections, and 3 core facilities.

Stanley Cohen, Ph.D.NICHD inducts Stanley Cohen, Ph.D., into its Hall of Honor for spearheading research that elucidated how cell growth and differentiation is regulated and for the discovery of epidermal growth factor. Dr. Cohen and his colleague Dr. Levi-Montalcini earned both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their discoveries related to growth factors in 1986.

The NIH initiates the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) Program, a consolidation of two existing programs, the Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) and Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism, into a single research effort. The ACE Program seeks to expand on earlier discoveries made by research previously supported by the NIH. Funding and resources for the Program are provided by the NICHD, along with the NIDCD, the NIEHS, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

The President signs the bill renaming the NICHD as the “Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.” The bill and renaming honor Mrs. Shriver’s support for the establishment of the Institute and her ongoing efforts on behalf of the intellectually disabled and laud the NICHD’s research efforts in reducing SIDS, maternal HIV transmission, and development of vaccines, among others.

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The NIH, led by the NICHD, releases a research plan to advance understanding of Down syndrome and speed development of new treatments for the condition, which is the most frequent genetic cause of mild to moderate intellectual disability and associated medical problems. The plan sets research goals for the next 10 years that build upon earlier research advances fostered by the NIH. Among the plan elements is the need for increased research on the medical, cognitive, and behavioral conditions that occur in people with Down syndrome and the need to study whether aging has a greater impact on mental processes in people with Down syndrome than in people who do not have Down syndrome.

Eunice Kennedy ShriverIn conjunction with the Institute’s 45th anniversary, the NICHD hosts an event to formally recognize the renaming of the Institute as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. At a special event for Mrs. Shriver, her family, including her brother Senator Edward Kennedy, friends, and other special guests, the NICHD also renames its flagship research centers program in Mrs. Shriver’s honor and inducts her into the NICHD Hall of Honor.

Preterm infantThe NICHD serves as the scientific lead for the Surgeon General’s Conference on the Prevention of Preterm Birth. The aim of the conference was to establish an agenda for activities in both the public and private sectors to speed the identification of, and treatments for, the causes of and risk factors for preterm labor and delivery. The agenda calls for a national system to better understand the occurrence of preterm birth and a national education program to help women reduce their chances of giving birth prematurely. The agenda also calls for improved methods for estimating the age of the fetus, and studies to identify biomarkers that would signal the beginning of preterm labor.

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Baby's footThe NIH, led by the NICHD, releases a research plan to advance the understanding of Fragile X syndrome and its associated conditions, Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome and Fragile X-associated primary ovarian insufficiency. Fragile X syndrome, which results from a mutation in a gene on the X chromosome, causes intellectual and developmental disabilities. The plan sets research priorities for each condition, including investigating the biological processes underlying all three disorders and how to better diagnose and treat them. Other priorities are studying how widespread the gene variations are in the population and how the three conditions affect families.

After more than 40 years with the NICHD, Director Duane Alexander, M.D., announces his departure. His tenure at the NICHD saw a myriad of scientific accomplishments, ranging from the development of a vaccine against Hemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) meningitis, thereby eliminating it as a major cause of acquired intellectual and developmental disability, to the dramatic decrease in the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission in the United States, from 27 percent to less than 2 percent.

The NICHD and NIH communities joined the newborn screening research community and the Hunter’s Hope Foundation—started by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife Jill after their son Hunter was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative, fatal genetic disease—in inaugurating the Hunter Kelly Newborn Screening Research Program. The Program aims to identify new screening technologies and research management strategies for the conditions that such screening can detect.

Alan Guttmacher, M.D.The NIH Director appoints Alan Guttmacher, M.D., as the Acting Director of the NICHD. Dr. Guttmacher replaces Susan B. Shurin, M.D., Acting Director since October 1, 2009. Dr. Shurin, Deputy Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, returns to that Institute to become its Acting Director. Dr. Guttmacher previously served as Deputy Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and as that Institute’s Acting Director from 2008 to 2009.

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