Airway disease is on the rise. Asthma is the most common chronic childhood condition, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), is the fourth leading cause of death in America. Research is underway both to identify risks and to develop therapeutic clinical trials.

With the graying of the U.S. population, certain diseases take on special urgency as their personal and social costs grow. Preventing or slowing the progress of diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and osteoarthritis will have a huge impact on the nation’s health and the quality of life of millions of Americans. Understanding normal aging processes is critical to understanding and intervening in these diseases.

More than a half-million Americans die of cancer every year, making it the second-leading cause of death. But overall cancer rates are declining—including for such common cancers as breast and lung—thanks to earlier detection, interventions and therapies that are at once more powerful and less dangerous than in the past.

The leading cause of death in the United States, cardiovascular disease affects 80 million people. The direct costs of this disease top $150 billion a year, making it a primary research target.

Ongoing efforts are underway to improve the safety of therapeutic drugs and medical devices, both through rigorous testing before their approval by the FDA and monitoring throughout the duration of their use.

The “scientific detectives” of public health, epidemiologists play a critical role in identifying causes, effects and mitigating strategies in problems ranging from obesity to bioterrorism.

With the sequencing of the human genome in 2003, genetics has become one of the most exciting fields in medicine, and research is expanding exponentially. Interventions and therapies customized to individual patients will be among the most striking outcomes.

Foundation programs are at work in dozens of countries around the world as well as across the United States. They aim to alleviate wide spread suffering and death from diseases such as malaria, enteric infections and HIV, as well as train researchers and medical personnel in the developing world.

Advances in medical imaging—from positron emission tomography to three-dimensional CT scans—are greatly improving disease and injury diagnosis and monitoring, while becoming less invasive and harmful to patients.

Infectious diseases kill nearly 10 million people a year; primarily in developing countries, where access to preventive care and treatment is limited. But even in the United States, new strains of disease emerge periodically, which must be addressed quickly and effectively.

In any given year, one in four Americans suffers from a mental illness. It is a major burden on individuals and society; in fact, the direct and indirect costs of mental illness may top $270 billion annually. Effective treatments have been elusive for many disorders, but research continues to illuminate new possibilities.

Under-treatment of pain and distress has been a long-standing patient issue, but in the past 25 years, much progress has been made—with more progressive attitudes among medical personnel, holistic approaches to improving quality of life, and basic research advancing the understanding of the causes and mechanisms of pain.

Advances in human health cannot occur without a dedicated force of skilled basic and clinical scientists. Recruiting, retaining and empowering scientists from many disciplines to work in team environments is a top NIH priority.