NIAID conducts and supports basic and applied research to better understand, treat, and ultimately prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases. For more than 60 years, NIAID research has led to new therapies, vaccines, diagnostic tests, and other technologies that have improved the health of millions of people in the United States and around the world.
In recent years, the scope of the NIAID research portfolio has expanded considerably in response to new challenges such as
The growth of NIAID programs also has been driven by unprecedented scientific opportunities in the core NIAID scientific disciplines of
Advances in these key fields have led to a better understanding of the human immune system and the mechanisms of infectious and immune-mediated diseases.
We still have much to discover about many infectious and immune-mediated diseases and how best to diagnose, treat, and prevent them. However, with a strong research base, talented investigators in the United States and abroad, and the availability of powerful new research tools, we fully expect that NIAID basic and applied research programs will provide the essential elements to
Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases
The threat of bioterrorism has created new challenges for medicine and public health. Our nation's ability to detect and respond to acts of bioterror requires new and improved countermeasures, including diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies. The development of countermeasures is driven by biomedical research on disease-causing microbes and on the immune system response to these pathogens. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIAID support much of this research. In 2003, NIAID assumed the principal responsibility within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and NIH for research and development of medical countermeasures against deliberate threats of infectious disease, chemical weapons, and radiation.
Disease-causing organisms evolve naturally, re-emerge with new properties or in new settings, and can be introduced deliberately, as in the case of the anthrax attacks in 2001. To help ensure that the nation is prepared for all of these possibilities, NIAID has integrated its research efforts for biodefense and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The Institute’s research agenda in this area includes the following:
As the lead agency at NIH for infectious diseases and immunology research, NIAID has developed
The strategic plan and research agendas stress two overarching and complementary components:
Advances in biodefense research have been rapid and significant, as delineated in the NIAID Biodefense Research Agenda for CDC Category A Agents Progress Report (1.04MB, PDF) and the NIAID Biodefense Research Agenda for Category B and C Priority Pathogens, Progress Report.
We anticipate that the large investment in research on biodefense will have many positive spin-offs for other diseases. NIAID research on microbial biology and on the pathogenesis of organisms with bioterror potential will certainly lead to a better understanding of other more common and naturally occurring infectious diseases that afflict people here and abroad.
Furthermore, and importantly, the NIAID biodefense research agenda promises to enhance our understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms of the innate immune system and its relationship to the adaptive immune system. Such knowledge will help in the search for new ways to treat and prevent a variety of immune-mediated diseases.
Learn more about NIAID biodefense and emerging infectious diseases research.
Vaccine research has long been a cornerstone of NIAID research. Effective vaccines have contributed enormously to improvements in public health worldwide. Research supported by NIAID has led to new or improved vaccines for a variety of serious diseases.
As the lead agency at NIH for infectious diseases and immunology research, NIAID has helped develop vaccines for
NIAID is committed to improving global health through the rigorous pursuit of effective vaccines for human diseases.
NIAID has three broad goals in vaccine research:
One of the important challenges for the 21st century is developing safe and effective vaccines for the three greatest microbial killers worldwide:
These diseases account for one-third to one-half of healthy years lost in less-developed countries. NIAID has a robust portfolio of vaccine research and development for these and other diseases of global importance, including agents of bioterrorism.
Learn more about NIAID vaccine research.
Immune System Research
An important NIAID research focus is the immune system, the complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Because the human body provides an ideal environment for many microbes, they try to break in. It is the immune system's job to keep them out or, failing that, to seek out and destroy them. When the immune system hits the wrong target or is crippled, however, it can unleash a torrent of diseases, including asthma and allergic diseases, arthritis, or AIDS.
NIAID-funded research in basic and clinical immunology has led to many promising approaches for treating people with immunologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, and asthma. For example, researchers are developing novel ways of selectively blocking inappropriate or destructive immune responses while leaving protective immune responses intact, an area of research known as tolerance induction.
The NIAID-supported Immune Tolerance Network (ITN) is an international consortium consisting of approximately 80 basic and clinical scientists and physicians at more than 40 institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. ITN has 18 approved clinical protocols that are enrolling patients, or will do so soon, in areas such as islet transplantation for type 1 diabetes, kidney transplantation, autoimmune diseases, and asthma and allergic diseases.
Learn more about NIAID immune system research.
Infectious and Immunologic Diseases
NIAID conducts and supports research on nearly 300 infectious agents (including bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and prions) and investigates the biological properties of these pathogens and the immune system’s responses to them. Findings from this research are vital to NIAID efforts to create vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic tools to better diagnose, prevent, and treat infectious disease.
Despite recent progress in treatment and prevention, HIV/AIDS continues to exact an enormous toll throughout the world. Estimates on the scope of the HIV/AIDS pandemic are profoundly sobering. As of the end of 2010, an estimated 34 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, 2.7 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV, and 1.8 million people with HIV/AIDS had died. More than 95 percent of these infections and deaths occurred in developing countries, most of which also are burdened by other significant health challenges.
The NIAID mandate to support research on HIV/AIDS began in response to the pandemic that started more than 30 years ago. The Institute supports and conducts studies in the following areas:
NIAID support of these research efforts has led to advances that have helped save millions of lives and played a key role in defining standards of care for treating HIV infection.
To help turn the tide of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, NIAID established research collaborations with international colleagues in more than 50 countries to develop comprehensive approaches to the HIV pandemic. These approaches encompass vaccine development and other prevention activities, therapeutics, and care of the HIV-infected person. These collaborations already have yielded important results, notably in developing methods to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
NIAID-sponsored researchers have made critical discoveries about the basic biology of HIV and the immune response to HIV infection, which in turn have led to the development of therapies that suppress the growth of the virus in the body. Although researchers have learned much in recent years, questions remain about the molecular interactions involved in the regulation of HIV expression and replication, why the host immune response fails to control the infection, and how reservoirs of virus persist in the body despite highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART).
NIAID continues to search for more scientific information about how the virus attacks the body and how the body defends itself, which is critical for identifying additional targets for therapeutic interventions and vaccines.
Learn more about NIAID HIV/AIDS research.
For the past decade, NIAID has focused on reducing the significant and growing burden of asthma among inner-city minority children.
NIAID's Inner-City Asthma Study has investigated novel interventions to improve the health of inner-city children with asthma.
One approach, called a physician feedback intervention, involves periodic reports to the child's doctor about the status of the child's asthma. These reports, generated from bimonthly phone interviews with parents, recommend changes in the child's treatment regimen according to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines, if warranted.
Another method involves an environmental intervention to identify and remove asthma triggers, such as cigarette smoke or cockroaches, from the child's home. Both interventions are reducing healthcare use, and the children receiving the environmental intervention gained an additional three weeks of symptom-free days during the intervention year. We are working to make such interventions available nationwide.
Learn more about NIAID asthma research.
Last Updated October 23, 2012