What Is the NINDS and What Does It Do?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or NINDS is one of 27 institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health or NIH.  The NINDS and its parent body, the NIH, work to support biomedical research with the goal of improving human health and understanding the science that underlies it.  In the case of the NINDS, this research is focused on improving nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves of the body) health and decreasing the burden of nervous system illness.  But the devil is always in the details, and here in the first of a series of posts about NINDS, I will give you a sense of how, through their day-to-day activities, NINDS and the other institutes of the NIH accomplish such a lofty and voluminous goal.

NINDS is divided into two components: one called “intramural” that performs research on the NIH campus and one called “extramural” that encourages, enables, and funds research performed at universities and research institutes all over the United States.

The John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center

The intramural component of NINDS has a workforce that includes principal investigators, each of whom leads a research team, research staff, and fellows who are trainees for whom the principal investigator is a mentor. The research that is conducted by NIH investigators, staff, and trainees includes basic research that is carried out in a laboratory and translational and clinical research that takes place in the NIH Clinical Center – an inpatient and outpatient facility that houses research programs that work directly with patients. In a future post, I will take a closer look at these researchers and the work that they do. 

The extramural component of NINDS has a workforce including teams that fund basic, translational, and clinical research at institutions outside the NIH. NINDS-funded research encompasses many of the diseases and disease mechanisms that affect the human nervous system throughout life.  Here at NINDS, the leaders of these discipline- and disease-focused teams keep their fingers on the pulse of science and medicine by attending and planning national scientific conferences, NIH-sponsored workshops, and discussions with extramural principal investigators—the scientists performing research at institutions across the country. NINDS staff also interacts frequently with advocacy groups that represent patients and families with various neurological diseases. Through these interactions with researchers, advocates, patients, and families, they are able to identify research areas of need and write specific requests for projects that address those needs. In this way, NINDS is able to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of neuroscience research.

Overseeing all programs here at NINDS is the Office of the Director, which is tasked with ensuring a research focus on improving the lives of individuals with neurological disorders; providing education for the public and information requested by the Congress; and serving as point of contact for the investigators around the U.S. and at NIH who work everyday to push back the neuroscience frontier.

Some of the most common and most disabling disorders are being studied and tackled through the research and funding efforts of NINDS.  Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, stroke, muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), brain tumors, epilepsy, migraine—all are within the purview of NINDS. In future posts, we will learn about how NINDS funding supports doctors and scientists and fuels research in the U.S. and around the world.  We will also talk about the efforts going right here on the NIH campus to address these challenges and how we are helping entrepreneurs to bring exciting new technologies to the market, all with the goal of improving the lives of millions who live with neurological disorders.