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NIH Undiagnosed Diseases Program

NIH Common Fund: 10 Years of Transformative Science

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Common Fund 10th Anniversary LogoHappy 10th Anniversary to the Common Fund! It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since I joined then-NIH Director Elias Zerhouni at the National Press Club to launch this trans-NIH effort to catalyze innovation and speed progress across many fields of biomedical research.

We’re marking this milestone with a special celebration today at NIH’s main campus. And, for those of you who can’t make it to Bethesda to join in the festivities, you can watch the videocast (live or archived). But allow me also to take this opportunity to share just a bit of the history and a few of the many achievements of this bold new approach to the support of science.


From Uganda to NIH, to Solve a Seizure Mystery

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Ugandan family members in a conference room

Caption: From left, translator Irene Nakamya; Alice Alanyo and infant son Hassan Komakech; Concy Lamunu and infant son Jovan Lokpol; Balbina Lamon; Domasco Okenyy; and translator Tom Azalia during the Ugandan family’s visit to the NIH Clinical Center in May 2014.
Credit: Maggie Bartlett, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH

In 2012, NIH researcher Avindra Nath traveled to Uganda to investigate a mysterious illness striking children between ages 5 and 15 in Acholi—a remote region in the north of that African nation. More than 3,000 children in Acholi and villages in nearby Southern Sudan were suffering from “nodding syndrome.” Named for the drooping, or nodding, head typically seen in patients, the condition is characterized by seizures, staring, and varying degrees of mental retardation.

Dr. Nath, a neurologist and clinical director at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Dr. Thomas Nutman, an expert in parasitic diseases from our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization, have joined with experts in Uganda to try to identify the cause of this disease. If you are wondering why the NIH would be interested in a mysterious syndrome seen in this region of the world, it is because any disease that spreads rapidly is a global threat.