The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has its origins in a one-room laboratory in New York City in 1887 and was officially designated by the Congress of the United States in 1930. It now occupies a sprawling campus of over 300 acres in Bethesda, Maryland on the outskirts of Washington, DC. The agency’s motto is “Turning Discovery into Health” and its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behaviour of living systems, to apply that knowledge to reduce illness and disability, and to enhance health.
In 2005, when CapeRay was still being incubated within the University of Cape Town (UCT), Kit Vaughan and his colleague Tania Douglas secured a grant for $275,000 from the NIH (R21CA101705). Entitled “Low dose digital X-rays for mammographic screening,” the grant enabled the investigators to develop a working prototype that led to venture capital funding and CapeRay was spun out from UCT in early 2010. Based on the Bayh-Dole Act, the company is obliged to ensure that intellectual property developed with Federal funding benefits the American people.
Over the past 30 years, the NIH has been fortunate to be led by directors who are themselves outstanding scientists. After a record 12 years at the helm, Francis Collins (seen left) – best known as the leader of the Human Genome Project – steps down at the end of the month. During his tenure, the NIH budget has increased by 38% to more than $41 billion, a remarkable achievement given the economic crises and changing dynamics in the White House over the past decade.
During the 1990s, the NIH director was Harold Varmus (seen below left) who won a Nobel Prize in 1989 for his discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. He subsequently served a five-year term from 2010 as director of the National Cancer Institute. Prior to Francis Collins, the NIH was led by Elias Zerhouni (seen below right), a diagnostic radiologist who was born and educated in Algeria. A highly published scientist, he is also an inventor and entrepreneur who founded five successful medical imaging companies.
South Africa’s equivalent to the NIH is the Medical Research Council whose mission is to improve the nation’s health by funding innovative and responsive research. One of their recent initiatives, jointly funded by our country’s Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), provides $50,000 seed grants for the Medical Device and Diagnostic Innovation Cluster. Applications close at 6:00 pm today and CapeRay is hopeful its submission for a novel device will succeed in turning discovery into health!