Research Highlights

With NIH support, scientists across the United States and the world conduct wide-ranging research to improve the health of our nation. Groundbreaking NIH-funded research often receives top scientific honors. In 2016, these honors included 1 NIH-supported Nobel Prize winner and 5 NIH-funded recipients of top awards from the Lasker Foundation. Here’s just a small sampling of the research accomplishments made by NIH-supported scientists in 2016

Research Highlights: Nurse taking senior man’s blood pressure.
Over time, consistently high blood pressure can weaken and damage blood vessels, which can lead to serious health problems.

Blood pressure management for seniors

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects 1 in 3 American adults. In a large clinical study, researchers found that seniors who aimed for a target systolic blood pressure level lower than commonly recommended (less than 120 mm Hg compared to 140 mm Hg) had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death. The findings will help older adults with hypertension and their doctors make more informed decisions about blood pressure goals.

Woman checking blood sugar level
People with type 1 diabetes need to closely monitor their blood glucose levels.

Islet transplantation restores blood sugar control in type 1 diabetes

Diabetes is a disorder in the regulation and use of glucose. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic beta cells that make insulin. Researchers used pancreatic islet cell transplantation to successfully treated people with difficult cases of type 1 diabetes. The procedure and the use of antirejection drugs were associated with some side effects. Researchers continue to monitor participants to assess the experimental procedure.

Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food, triggered by the body’s immune system.

Food allergy prevention

The standard approach to food allergy prevention is to avoid allergenic foods, such as peanuts. Researchers are developing several promising new approaches to protect infants and children with peanut allergy. These include regular consumption of peanut products early in life; including eating small, gradually increasing amounts of peanut protein; and a wearable patch that delivers tiny amounts of peanut protein through the skin. More work will be needed to assess the risks and long-term benefits of these regimens.

Malaria sporozoites
Malaria sporozoites, the infectious form of the malaria parasite that is injected into people by mosquitoes.

Experimental malaria vaccine protects adults for more than a year

Roughly half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria, despite improved prevention and control efforts. Researchers have been working to develop a vaccine that provides long-term, reliable protection from malaria. An experimental vaccine protected healthy adults from infection for more than a year after immunization. The vaccine is now being tested in larger trials.

DNA double helix rests on a field of ACGTs and binary numbers.
Genetic testing for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has been used in the clinic for more than a decade.

Genetic misdiagnoses of heart condition in black Americans

Genetic testing can help identify people at risk for certain conditions. Scientists found that several genetic variations previously linked with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (abnormally thick heart muscle) were harmless. The variants, which were much more common in black Americans than in white Americans, resulted in a higher misdiagnosis of black Americans. The findings highlight the importance of including diverse populations in genomic studies, and keeping health care professionals updated on new findings.

Mature woman on a sofa reading a book
AMD blurs the sharp, central vision you need for “straight-ahead” activities such as reading.

Long-term benefits of age-related macular degeneration treatments

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans. AMD often has few symptoms in its early stages, but causes loss of central vision in later stages. Researchers examined the 5-year outcomes of using the drugs Avastin and Lucentis to treat AMD. The results showed that almost half of the participants had 20/40 vision or better, confirming the long-term benefits of the therapy.

Senior man meditating
Studies suggest that complementary health approaches can help alleviate chronic low-back pain.

Meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy ease low back pain

Most people experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Treatment choices include over-the-counter and prescription drugs, cold and hot compresses, exercise, and in some cases, surgery. Researchers found that mindfulness-based stress reduction and cognitive-behavioral therapy both alleviated chronic low back pain in adults. The results validate more treatment options for people with back pain to consider with their health care providers.

Man in ventilation helmet
The noninvasive ventilation helmet is a transparent hood that covers the entire head of the patient and has a rubber collar neck seal.

Helmet-based ventilation eases respiratory distress

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs and blocks oxygen from entering the bloodstream. If a person doesn’t receive enough oxygen, the organs can’t function properly. Researchers compared noninvasive oxygen delivery methods—a helmet versus a face mask—for patients with ARDS. The trial was stopped early because the helmets proved more effective than the face masks for treating this condition.

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