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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

NIAID Overview

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had its origins in the earliest days of the Public Health Service. In 1948, the Rocky Mountain Laboratory and the Biologics Control Laboratory, both dating to 1902, joined the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Division of Tropical Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to form the National Microbiological Institute. Six years later, Congress gave the Institute its present name to reflect the inclusion of allergy and immunology research. Today, NIAID provides the major support for scientists conducting research aimed at developing better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent the many infectious, immunologic and allergic diseases that afflict people worldwide.

NIAID is composed of four extramural divisions: the Division of AIDS, the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation, the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, and the Division of Extramural Activities. In addition, NIAID scientists conduct intramural research in laboratories located in Bethesda, Rockville and Frederick, Maryland, and in Hamilton, Montana.

Following is a brief description of the major areas of investigation.

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). NIAID is responsible for conducting and supporting basic research on the pathogenesis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS; developing new drug therapies; conducting clinical trials of promising experimental drugs for HIV infection and related opportunistic infections and cancers; carrying out epidemiologic studies to assess the impact of HIV on the populations most severely affected by the epidemic; and developing and testing HIV vaccines.
  • Asthma and Allergic Diseases. Research on asthma and allergies has revealed much about their underlying mechanisms and contributed to the development of new ways to help affected individuals. NIAID has established a network of asthma, allergic, and immunologic diseases research centers to transfer results from fundamental studies in immunology and clinical studies of allergy to clinical practice. The Institute also supports the National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study to define factors that influence the disease's severity and to design and evaluate programs to reduce asthma episodes and deaths among African-American and Hispanic children.
  • Emerging Diseases. New diseases are arising worldwide and old diseases are re-emerging as infectious agents evolve or spread and as changes occur in ecology, socioeconomic conditions, and population patterns. NIAID conducts and supports research on Lyme disease, hantavirus, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and other emerging diseases to develop new or improved diagnostics, treatment, and vaccines.
  • Enteric Diseases. Worldwide, diarrheal diseases such as cholera and rotavirus are a major cause of illness and death in infants and children. In contrast, viral hepatitis in its various forms, can cause severe disease in older children and adults, although it produces few symptoms among younger age groups. NIAID supports basic research on how enteric agents cause illness as well as studies aimed at developing and testing vaccines to prevent enteric infections.
  • Genetics and Transplantation. NIAID supports studies aimed at improving immunosuppressive therapies, further developing reagents needed for precise tissue matching, defining the genetic regulation of the immune response and understanding the molecular mechanisms that control immune system genes. NIAID is participating in the first NIH cooperative clinical trial in kidney transplantation, designed to translate developments in basic research into new therapies to prevent graft rejection.
  • Immunologic Diseases. The immune system is a complex network of specialized organs and cells that has evolved to defend the body against attacks by foreign invaders. When functioning properly, the system fights off infections by such agents as viruses and bacteria. A malfunction, however, can unleash an enormous variety of diseases from allergy to arthritis to cancer. NIAID research focuses on the basic biology of the immune system and mechanisms of immunologic diseases including autoimmune disorders.
  • Malaria and Other Tropical Diseases. Diseases such as malaria, filariasis, trypanosomiasis, leprosy disable and kill millions of people worldwide. NIAID's research efforts in tropical medicine are conducted by U.S. and foreign investigators receiving Institute support and by NIAID scientists in Bethesda. NIAID supports a number of centers for tropical medicine research in countries where such of diseases are endemic.
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases. More than 13 million Americans each year acquire infectious diseases other than AIDS through sexual contact. Such STDs as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes and human papillomavirus can have devastating consequences, particularly for young adults, pregnant women and newborn babies. NIAID-supported scientists in STD Cooperative Research Centers, NIAID laboratories, and other research institutions are developing better diagnostic tests, improved treatments, and effective vaccines.
  • Vaccine Development. Effective vaccines have contributed enormously to improvements in public health in the United States during the last century. Research conducted and supported by NIAID has led to new or improved vaccines for a variety of serious diseases, including rabies, measles, meningitis, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, and pneumococcal pneumonia, to name a few. NIAID supports vaccine evaluation units for the testing of new vaccines in people at a number of U.S. medical centers.

Other areas of research include fungal diseases, hospital-associated infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, respiratory diseases, and antiviral and antimicrobial drug development.

Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

NIAID welcomes your comments and suggestions. Please send them to:

How to Reach NIAID

NIAID Office of Communications Building 31, Room 7A-50
31 Center Drive MSC 2520
Bethesda, MD 20892-2520
United States of America

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