Aerial view of the NIH clinical research center. By NIH [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What does the NIH do?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds and conducts research that has advanced all areas of health, from common diseases such as cancer and heart disease, to rare diseases such as autoinflammatory syndromes (aka, periodic fever syndromes). Experts at the NIH have been researching, and providing care to patients with, autoinflammatory diseases for over 25 years. Through the NIH, thousands of patients with mysterious symptoms, such as recurrent fevers, rashes, hearing loss, and joint swelling have gotten a diagnosis, treatment, and even had their lives saved by the experts there. Meet some of those patients below.
Learn more about how to advocate for more NIH funding and why it matters here.
Isaac celebrated his 10th birthday in style. Thanks to the NIH we will get to celebrate many more birthdays with Isaac.
Kathe Barchus: The NIH saved my son’s life.
My son Isaac has had a long journey with his illness, suffering in many ways from muscle pain to high fevers and so much in between.
It all started shortly after he was born and we saw a great many specialists, exhausting our local medical care. As parents, we were watching our child suffer and slip a bit farther away every day; it was a time of helplessness and desperation.
We began researching for any answers and found the NIH website. After some discussion, we applied online to a clinical trial, sending along a detailed history and pictures. Within several months, we made our first trip to the NIH to seek out new hope.
It was several years before we would have a diagnosis, but the team at the NIH never gave up. Our medical team gave us the hope we so greatly needed.
Isaac continues to face many health challenges, but he also continues to live life to the fullest.
In those 11 years, Isaac has had several drug trials, met with many different types of specialists, had genome sequencing, and is the only child known with his specific mutation that gives him this auto-inflammatory disease. CANDLE Syndrome affects all of Isaac’s tissues and causes him pain, rashes, fevers, loss of fat, short stature, insulin resistance, hypertension, low bone density, and so much more.
Without research and the NIH we know he would have succumbed to this disease, but today he is on a drug that is targeting the pathway that causes many of his symptoms. This drug has given him a greatly improved quality of life and he is currently very successful in school and church, plays non-contact sports, and has a circle of family and friends that adore and admire him.
He has endured a great deal during this journey and is a pioneer for his disease, allowing for improved care for others like him and also for research that has improved care in other patients with many other diseases.
My inspiration is all my friends around the world. I keep my body fighting, so they can see me.
As part of NIH research for autoinflammatory diseases, patients document symptoms with photos. Since they probably see a lot of concerning photos, I thought I would send a smiling photo and hopefully give them a smile.
Bob Riter: I’ve been a medical mystery for 40 years.
For nearly 40 years, I’ve experienced unusual, episodic, and unexplained rashes that mystified every physician I visited. It wasn’t even clear which medical specialty took care of conditions like mine.
I finally learned that I likely had an autoinflammatory disorder and was accepted into a clinical trial at NIH.
During my first visit, I had an incredible sense of emotional relief. They understood what I was talking about. Not only did they understand, they wanted to learn more. They were medical detectives and they were using the remarkable resources of NIH to help me. I couldn’t stop smiling during that visit.
I’m still uncategorized. That is, I have an autoinflammatory disorder of some sort, but testing is still underway to see if a genetic mutation can be found that explains it. This isn’t unusual. These conditions are so rare that it often takes time to find other patients with the same symptoms. Once that happens, our DNA can be compared and common mutations possibly identified.
Going to the NIH gave me both knowledge and hope. I knew that I was on the right path and that I finally had the right team behind me.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the leading source of research funding for health and biological sciences in the United States. The NIH’s current yearly budget is about $32 billion dollars, which is used to fund research across the country. The total U.S. population in 2016 was about 324,000,000, making a cost of funding NIH research about $100 per person living in the U.S. This money goes to fund grants at research institutions across the U.S. for numerous diseases and health conditions, drug and vaccine development, and much more.
I think that it’s safe to say that the value of NIH research is far more than the actual dollar cost to fund the research. The average family in the U.S. spends more than $100 in a week on food, which is necessary to sustain their life and health. Yet a whole year’s worth of research for all sorts of conditions that could affect a person from birth (or even in the womb) into their old age is being supported by about $100 a year per person in our country. I think that is quite a bargain!
Isaac, who has CANDLE syndrome, celebrated his 10th birthday in style. A birthday that would not have happened without the NIH.
For many the impact of NIH-funded medical and scientific research is felt directly and is priceless, as it has helped to save their life, or that of a loved one. You can read such patient stories here. To learn more about how the NIH helps autoinflammatory diseases, read this post.
NIH research benefits all people, not just those in the U.S. as the advances made to health benefits everyone around the world. This means that over 7.3 billion people benefit from investment in NIH research every year. Research that can help find better prevention, treatments, and understanding of serious common diseases, diseases that could cause a worldwide epidemic, and even very rare diseases which can lead to treatments and discoveries that help more common conditions.
To continue to make great advancements in health care, the NIH needs more funding, not less!
If you agree, scroll to the bottom of this page and follow a few simple steps to encourage your elected officials and others to support more research funding for the NIH!
This short, entertaining video shows how research funding has made a huge impact on treating common and rare diseases.
The majority of NIH funding supports scientific research around the entire country.
Only 15% of the funds are used at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. This funding provides training for the next generation of doctors and researchers in all parts of the country. In addition to benefiting the advancement of medicine in our society, it leads to innovations that create new businesses and inventions that help the local economy.
FAESB image showing the loss of NIH research funding.
NIH research funding, and with it major health and science advancements are in jeopardy.
To some (including our current President Donald Trump) a $32-35 billion dollar yearly budget to fund the majority of biomedical research in our country is too much. Our president wants to reduce the NIH budget by 18-20%, even though funding for the NIH for the past 15 years has not kept up with inflation, and has been reduced at times, such as with sequestration in 2013. This NIH Research Funding Trends report states that:
From Fiscal Year 2003 to 2015, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lost 22% of its capacity to fund research due to budget cuts, sequestration, and inflationary losses.
That means our current NIH budget already functions at 20% less than where it should be today; adding a deeper 20% cut would lead to a 40% reduction in NIH research funding compared to 15 years ago.
We may not have ever had the Human Genome Project started, or ever completed if it had not been funded by our Congress. Researchers all around the U.S. and the world worked on the project, and led to the discovery of the genetic cause for over 1,800 diseases. This research also paved the way for autoinflammatory disease research. Note that the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, two years ahead of schedule and under budget!
Please take a look at these graphs from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FAESB) that clearly show how the reduction in NIH funding over the past 15 years has caused great damage to research in the U.S., and how further cuts could cause irreparable damage and impact on the future of health care and scientific innovation in our country. Download their informative one page PDF featuring this information with the download button on their page, and please share it with your elected officials, friends and family.
The loss of research funding over the past 10-15 years has caused a deficit in opportunities and training for the next generation of researchers, which will have a lasting and damaging effect on our society. Further cuts will be difficult to recover from, and the losses will impact our nation, and our world.
NIH-funded research, conducted at academic and medical institutions in communities in every state in the nation, is an engine for medical progress and economic growth. NIH research fuels the pipeline of discovery and innovation necessary to prevent, treat and cure our most vexing diseases and it has a significant economic impact, supporting more than 350,000 jobs across the United States and contributing some $60 billion annually in economic activity. –UMR President Lizbet Boroughs
NIAMS researchers Raphaela T. Goldbach-Mansky, M.D., M.H.S. (left) and Nicole Plass, R.N., M.P.A., U.S. Public Health Service, with a DIRA patient. NIH research has led to the identification and successful treatment of DIRA, a rare autoinflammatory disease. Credit: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health
NIH clinical drugtrials may be someone’s only hope for a future, or for survival.
Clinical trials for patients that are federally funded mean that any patient that meets the study criteria can be enrolled, regardless of their insurance, financial status, or other barriers. For some patients, an NIH study may be their only option in the world to get help for their rare disease.
My son’s first birthday (flaring with his ever-present rash, fever and pain from his autoinflammatory disease.)
As a parent of a child with a very rare autoinflammatory disease (NOMID) that took the lives of 1:5 children prior to adulthood before the NIH study for a targeted medication for this condition, I can attest that NIH research can save, and greatly improve lives. We nearly lost our son at birth due to his disease, then again when he was 13 months old due to life-threatening inflammation and fibrin clots around his heart (pericardial effusion-near tamponade). In this photo, he was already anemic, weak and flaring with fevers, vomiting and crying from pain and uncontrolled inflammation from his brain to his feet. But he went undiagnosed until he was 3 1/2 years old, and had more complications every year. Thanks to his NIH doctors, he was properly diagnosed, and his medical needs were addressed. He was one of the first patients in the NIH clinical trial with the targeted treatment that has changed his life. Not a day goes by that we are not personally thankful for NIH research that has given our child a future.
The expertise of specialists at the NIH that know such a rare disease, and also collaborate with other experts globally is invaluable. Because of the rarity of his disease, we could not get this level of care locally, even though we live in one of the largest cities in the U.S. and are surrounded by some of the best medical institutions in our state.
Yes, we need to rein in spending and decrease debt, but severely slashing funding that benefits humanity so greatly does not make sense at all.
There is currently debate about how to better rein in costs for research and keep NIH funding more tightly focused, but this is a complex issue. Read more about that here.
I love NASA and all their discoveries, and I was devastated to see the space shuttle program taken out of service a few years ago. I actually had tears as I saw the last space shuttle flown on top of a plane over my city on the way to its final resting place in the California desert. But if I had to choose between funding research for humans on earth, versus the proposed funding a trip to better understand a distant moon or planet, I would prefer more focus on the needs of our people on our own planet.
Cell image: Scientists still have not fully discovered everything yet about our cells. Credit: A. Valm, S. Cohen, J. Lippincott-Schwartz, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health
Many experts feel that cutting NIH funding will actually lead to serious health risks to our country, that could undermine our national security and affect everyone in our country.
The proposed cut to NIH is, quite simply, a travesty because it threatens the life of every American, harms our economy, and abdicates the United States’ role as a world leader in research. Advances in biomedical and biological research have improved the health of our citizens, generated new treatments for life-threatening diseases, and enhanced our quality of life. Opportunities for additional progress are enormous and at our doorstep, but that promising future success requires sustained and predictable growth in the federal investment in the nation’s research enterprise. The proposed reduction in research funding is unconscionable and endangers the national security of our country.
Join the Autoinflammatory Alliance, and other organizations in sharing your opinion on the proposed budget cuts today, to help protect research and innovation for the future.
There are a number of ways to let your voice be heard, and it will make a difference:
Contact your elected officials today on these issues, and tell them how it will impact you and your community. Visit USA.gov and follow the steps to contact your legislators and even the president! Make your case concise, but personal. Calls and letters are noted.
Download the FAESB’s informative one-page pdf with all their graphs of the impact of NIH budget cuts over the past 15 years by clicking on the download button on their page, to share with legislators.
Visit The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) website for helpful tips and ways to take action here.
Invite your elected official to join the Congressional Rare Disease Caucus. You can even invite them online here (It takes less than 2 minutes!) Make sure to look at the list of members, to see if your legislators are already members.
Make a donation to support research that you find valuable.
The Autoinflammatory Alliance is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit public charity dedicated to promoting awareness, proper diagnosis and treatment, and improved care for people with autoinflammatory diseases.
The Autoinflammatory Alliance has and will continue to advocate for autoinflammatory patients on this and other issues.
As budgets get tighter, it is more and more important for organizations to raise funds to help specific research to happen in our country. As an organization, we need to increase our research fundraising to be able to directly fund more autoinflammatory research, but we need your help and support to make this happen.
Donations are welcome anytime! The Autoinflammatory Alliance is a 401c3 non-profit public charity. All donations are tax deductible in the US.
If you are interested in directly supporting NIH research with a donation, that is possible. Contact us here to find out more.
These books reviewed by families dealing with periodic fever syndromes, aka autoinflammatory diseases, come highly recommended to share with your child. We’ve included books that will help kids who themselves are living with a chronic illness, or who have a sibling or parent who is chronically sick. These stories and journal will help kids and their families understand and become more comfortable with all the medical appointments, start conversations, and feel less alone in their struggles.
Digging Deep, A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges
Reviewed by Jennifer Tousseau
This journal, written by Rose Offner and Sheri Brisson, is absolutely the best I have ever seen for a child living with an illness of any kind. Each page has a prompt for kids to answer with writing, words, drawings, photos, or however they want. They can make it their own. The art draws you in and perfectly reflect each page’s prompt. And the prompts creatively and with sensitivity and sincerity touch on all the emotions and challenges that kids with health challenges face, from spending a lot of time with doctors to how relationships with family and friends may change. With topics such as Pieces of Myself, Heart Songs, and My Boiling Point, they get to explore how they felt when they were diagnosed, fears, hopes, new friends, and future dreams. The journal also opens up communication with family about topics you may not have even realized your child was thinking about. Although this book is to help work through the life changes and challenges of an illness, it also helps remind kids that there is more to them than their illness with pages dedicated to what makes them unique and special.
In short, I think every child, whether young or teen, facing a health challenge could benefit from this book. You can buy it here on Amazon which helps support the production and distribution of this book to hospitals and nonprofit organizations, or you can get a free copy here.
Wonder, written by R. J. Palacio, is a must read for the entire family. Told with humor (everyone will laugh) and respect, Wonder follows Auggie, his family, and friends through 5th grade, Auggis’s first year going to school after being homeschooled due to his medical condition. Readers aren’t told exactly what Auggie has until midway through the story, because the story is not about the diagnosis; the story is about living life with the diagnosis. (Although the Genetics 101 chapter will feel familiar and poignant to those with a genetic condition.)
Of course that doesn’t mean life is easy for any of them and the reader experiences that from the personal perspective of Auggie and each person close to Auggie, which sets this book apart. Hardly any of us can relate to being Auggie, though we want to better understand. But all of us can relate to the humanity and imperfections of the other characters, and how those characters can also show resilience, humility, and integrity. His friend Jack Will’s story is impactful because that’s how many kids with even the best hearts would be. His friend Summer is more of that “one of a kind” friend we all hope to have in our lives.
It’s hard to give a good review of this book without giving everything away, so we’ll just say it has it all: good friends and family, life’s high points and low points, and lots of laughter, cheers, and some tears.
To give you a peek into Wonder here are a couple of our favorite quotes from the book (It was hard to narrow this down to just two!):
“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there’s footprints on the moon” – One of the many inspirational precepts from Auggie’s teacher that you’ll find in 365 Days of Wonder. Click here for more.
From the sister who struggles with watching her brother struggle and yet feels their parents put her second behind her brother’s needs. She’s also one of Auggie’s biggest supporters. –
I’ve seen August after his surgeries: his little face bandaged up and swollen, his tiny body full of IVs and tubes to keep him alive. After you’ve seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. I knew this even when I was six years old.
From Auggie’s homework assignment –
This precept means that we should be remembered for the things we do….The things we do outlast our mortality….are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of stone.
When reading Wonder we both thought for sure the author had personal experience dealing with chronic medical condition. She got so many things right; the fears and uncertainty that parents face making what to others would be mundane decisions, the child living life with their medical condition in tow, the sibling struggles, and even dealing with outsiders looking in who don’t care to try and understand. But it turns out, R.J. Palacio developed this story after meeting a child with facial deformity and regretting how she reacted. That night after her encounter she started writing Wonder. –
We’re All Wonders, A picture book of Auggie’s world for younger readers. Order it here.
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how that scene had played out…What could I be teaching my children so they could understand how to respond better next time? Is “don’t stare” even the right thing to teach, or is there something deeper? All this stuff was flying through my head, and I realized that I was disappointed in myself because I had missed a good teaching moment for my kids. What I should have done, instead of trying to get my kids away and avoid the situation, was engage the girl and her mother in conversation. If my son cried, so be it: kids cry. But I should have set a better example for him…Instead I panicked. I simply didn’t have the wherewithall to know what to do in that situation. – R. J. Palacio
It can’t be said enough that this book is well worth the read. Read it with your kids and keep the tissue box close by. You can buy Wonder here on Amazon.
This book is perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, and beginning school-aged kids who have to spend a lot of time with doctors. Buy it here on Amazon.
A Day with the Animal Doctors
Reviewed by S.T.
My son, age 3, loves reading A Day with the Animal Doctors written by Sharon Rentta, a sweet book about a little boy named Terrence who joins his mom, a doctor, for a day at the hospital. Through Terrence’s antics, readers learn about different reasons people come to the hospital and some of the equipment doctors use, such as X-rays, etc. The pictures are cute and funny, with small details to engage older readers, such as the endless work of the cleaning mice, who constantly tidy up after Terrence and sweep up a leopard’s spots, or an elderly crocodile who loses his false teeth and must have “nil by mouth”. Overall, the book normalizes hospitals and doctors, making them seem friendlier and more welcoming.
Families dealing with autoimmune and autoinflammatory conditions will relate to this book.
Taking Arthritis to School
Reviewed by Katie Bailey
Taking Arthritis to School, written by Dee Dee L. Miller and illustrated by Tom Dineen, is a wonderfully illustrated, informative, and child-centered book about pediatric arthritis. The story outlines several experiences that many families who are affected by autoimmune or systemic autoinflammatory diseases will find familiar. The author manages to balance a sense of optimism while still explaining some of the challenges these children face in simple terms. The reader is frequently reminded that although there are difficulties including labs, procedures, medications, and days where Eric is not feeling well, he is still an ordinary kid who loves exercising his imagination, going to school, and playing with friends.
This book will help siblings of kids who are often in the hospital or doctor’s office.
Reviewed by Katie Bailey
Sometimes, by Rebecca Elliott, is a book written especially for siblings of children with chronic illnesses. The story follows a brother and sister through the sister’s hospital visit, which you can tell is likely a recurring event. The author does a beautiful job of highlighting the special relationship between the sibling pair. The brother’s love for his sister is evident throughout the story, and parents might also get an idea or two on how to incorporate the healthy siblings during difficult times such as hospital stays. The author leaves several details open to interpretation, so families dealing with various chronic illnesses can use it to touch on their own children’s experiences. This is a quick and meaningful read for any family that has toddler through elementary age siblings.
This book is written by a mom with a chronic illness for her son.
Why Does Mommy Hurt?
Reviewed by Katie Bailey
Why Does Mommy Hurt?, by Elizabeth M. Christy, is an insightful and honest portrayal of life with a chronically ill parent told from the perspective of her young son. The reader gains understanding of how the mom’s illness impacts both her and her family’s daily life, yet the young son is quick to point out her inherent irreplaceable value as his mom and all the important and special things they still enjoy doing together. The boy expresses authentic feelings, but is also full of patience and a desire to help his mom feel better in this sweet, simple story. This book is a great book for any chronically ill parent to read with their young children.
In this book, Little Tree weathers a dangerous storm with the help of those around her.
Reviewed by Katie Bailey
Little Tree, by Joyce C. Mills, is an empowering tale of a tree who is forever changed after weathering a dangerous storm. The book is colorfully illustrated and its wording is simple enough for young children to relate to. However, the pages are filled throughout the story with deeper meaning from which older kids and adults may appreciate even more fully. It follows Little Tree’s journey, highlighting many common struggles and emotions felt by those who suffer from chronic illness. Acceptance is not immediate, but with the help of a loyal friend and two kind caretakers, Little Tree reminds the reader that having “strong roots and a brave heart” is even more powerful than she imagined.