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Medical Mysteries

NIH Clinical Center: There’s No Other Hospital Like It

NIH Clinical Center

The NIH Clinical Center houses 240 inpatient beds, 82 day-hospital stations, and more than 1,600 laboratories that conduct clinical and basic research. It has seen more than 400,000 patients since the hospital opened in 1953.
Photo: NIH Clinical Center

Home to the NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program

Patients in the National Institutes of Health’s Undiagnosed Diseases Program are no strangers to hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. But their experience at the NIH Clinical Center—America’s clinical research hospital and the world’s largest hospital dedicated totally to clinical research—is a new one. Through clinical research, promising discoveries in the laboratory are translated into better health and health care for all.

Doctor at bedside with patient

Research at the NIH Clinical Center happens from the bench to the bedside and back again, combining basic and clinical science to advance medical knowledge.
Photo: NIH Clinical Center

History of Medical Milestones

At the NIH Clinical Center, clinical research participants—more than 400,000 since the hospital opened in 1953—are active partners in medical discovery, a partnership that has resulted in a long list of medical milestones. Among these milestones has been the first cure of a solid tumor with chemotherapy, gene therapy, use of AZT to treat AIDS, and successful replacement of a mitral valve in the heart.

“Our patients come from every state and from around the world,” says John I. Gallin, M.D., Clinical Center director. “These partners in research and our specially trained staff collaborate to help advance medical knowledge that leads to new cures, therapies, and treatments.”

Currently, there are about 1,500 clinical research studies in progress at the NIH Clinical Center. About half are studies of the natural history of disease, especially rare diseases, which often are not studied anywhere else. What researchers learn by studying rare diseases often adds to the basic understanding of common diseases. Most other studies are clinical trials, which often are the first tests of new drugs and therapies in people. The clinical trials at the NIH Clinical Center are predominantly Phase I and Phase II, often first-in-human to test safety and effectiveness.

Male patient talking to female doctor

Patients are partners in research and the NIH Clinical Center is built with their experience in mind. Each patient room features natural light, and patient services, such as the Main Playroom and patient library, provide recreation.
Photo: NIH Clinical Center

Imagination and Collaboration of Specialists

Some 1,200 physicians, dentists, and Ph.D. researchers; 620 nurses; and 450 allied healthcare personnel work in patient care units and laboratories in numerous areas of clinical study. Specialists conduct research at the NIH Clinical Center in musculoskeletal and skin diseases; cancer; dental and craniofacial disorders; eye disorders; heart, lung, and blood diseases; infectious diseases; medical genetics; mental health; and neurological disorders.

All this expertise under one roof allows patients of the Undiagnosed Diseases Program to see specialists in one week that it would take months, if not years, to see elsewhere. At the NIH Clinical Center, investigators can make referrals for immediate testing and confer with peers across specialties to come up with the best approach for diagnosing and treating these patients.

Dr. John Gallin and Amanda Young

Amanda Young, a patient at the NIH Clinical Center, had an extremely rare disorder that was diagnosed by Dr. John Gallin, Clinical Center director.
Photo: NIH Clinical Center

Providing comfort and support

The NIH Clinical Center sees 10,000 new research participants a year. There are two types of research participants: patient volunteers and healthy volunteers. Patient volunteers are people with specific diseases or conditions who help medical investigators learn more about their condition or test new medications, procedures, or treatments. A healthy volunteer is a person with no known significant health problems who plays a vital role in research to test a new drug, device, or intervention.

There are many programs in place to ease the clinical research process for both patients and their families. Pediatric patients and their families stay at The Children’s Inn, a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year operation, where kids can be kids, instead of patients. There is also a school teaching kindergarten through high school, with a classroom and teachers who will go to the bedside.

For families and loved ones of adult patients, The Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge offers a home-like place of respite just steps away from the NIH Clinical Center, providing space for solitude, family meetings, and supportive fellowship.

Training the next generation

The NIH Clinical Center offers an extensive range of clinical research training to help prepare the next generation of clinician-scientists. The innovative curriculum includes courses in pharmacology, principles and practice of clinical research, and bioethics.

Recently, the NIH Clinical Center launched the Sabbatical in Clinical Research Management program for clinical investigators, healthcare managers and administrators, and others who oversee clinical trials. The program focuses on what they need to manage a clinical or translational research effort.

Two new programs will bring early career investigators to the NIH Clinical Center. They include partnerships between the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the National Cancer Institute  and the NIH and the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation.

“This is a first step toward opening the doors of the Clinical Center to clinician-scientists, further supporting the NIH mission to enhance health,” says Dr. Gallin.

Read More "Medical Mysteries" Articles

The NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program / “Thankful They Found a Cause” / “We feel deep compassion for patients...” / NIH Clinical Center: There’s No Other Hospital Like It

Spring 2011 Issue: Volume 6 Number 1 Page 15-17