The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today is the world's largest biomedical research institution, but back in 1887 it began its existence as a one-man immigrant quarantine station on Staten Island. The authors of a Minireview in mBio today tell the story of NIH's early growth with a biography of the Institute's founder, Joseph James Kinyoun (1860-1919).
At 125 years old, the NIH is now comprised of 27 Institutes and centers and is responsible for $26.4 billion in annual spending on both grant-based extramural funding and on its own intramural biomedical research program, but every mighty oak begins with a small acorn. The NIH began as the Hygienic Laboratory, an arm of the Marine Health Services, employing 25 year old Dr. Kinyoun (rhymes with “pinion”) as chief of a lab that occupied what once was a tiny museum room. The station served as a diagnostic laboratory to support quarantine activities to prevent new cases of cholera, plague, smallpox, and yellow fever from entering the country. Decades later, after several relocations, the Hygienic Laboratory would be known as the NIH.
Morens and Fauci's Minireview traces Dr. Kinyoun's career prior to his position at the Hygienic Laboratory, the aspects of his research program that helped propel the newly minted field of bacteriology forward, and the personal tragedies that compelled him to continue his work on preventing and curing infectious disease.