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Years of Change and Renewal 1969–1993

classusagrid-row grid-gap

In two patients we had seen tumors shrink, and in one case disappear, after our immunotherapy. After all the deaths, after all the years in the lab, we had found something that worked. For the first time I believed — rather than hoped — immunotherapy not only could work, but would work.

  • –Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D.
    The Transformed Cell

During the era of President Richard M. Nixon, political turmoil engendered by the Vietnam conflict reverberated throughout the biomedical research world built by federal funding and NIH sponsorship in the previous decade. The Clinical Center had its antiwar demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, and civil rights issues led to a vigorous affirmative action program to widen the opportunities for minorities.


Minutes, Clinical Center staff meetings: May 6, 1969; July 15, 1969; November 18, 1969; April 20, 1971; box 3, RG 443.

The war also brought demographic change within the hospital community. The end of the “doctor draft” in 1972 resulted in a steep falloff in Clinical Associate applications and jeopardized a critical source of new staff physicians. Normal volunteers were less often Mennonites and other conscientious objectors and increasingly were drawn from a national network of small colleges.


Minutes, Clinical Directors special meeting, February 25, 1974; minutes, Medical Board meeting, October 27, 1970.

The greatest challenge the Clinical Center faced came directly from the Nixon administration. In the name of budgetary restraint and managerial efficiency, the administration sought to curtail research spending, reduce federal support for biomedical education, and to phase out the PHS hospital system. Congress, however, wanted to redirect spending away from the war effort. A collision course was set in 1971 and 1972 when broad majorities in both houses voted massive new outlays to conquer cancer, heart, and lung disease. The administration supported these initiatives but insisted that off-setting cuts be made in other health areas. As a result, the budgets of NIH categorical institutes other than Cancer and Heart, Lung, and Blood registered absolute declines in 1973. 


Richard A. Rettig, Cancer Crusade: The Story of the National Cancer Act of 1971, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 30-35; Science, 183: 1325-26, December 28, 1973.

A personnel ceiling remained in place for NIH as a whole, so that while NIH funding rose $946 million between 1968 and 1975, permanent staff lost 350 positions, and much of this burden fell on the Clinical Center.


NIH Program Review, 1975, box 8, folder, “Clinical Center Reorganization, 1974-1975,” RG443.

 Departments such as Clinical Pathology were able to contract out as much as half their work load, but others such as Nursing were forced to carry growing program commitments with fewer personnel. In 1972, its bleakest year, that department reported, “The quality of nursing care is obviously deteriorating, even though it is recognized that all personnel are doing their best.”


Memorandum, Director, Clinical Center to Director, NIH, 11/20/73, “Review of Institute Contracts. . .“ Clinical Directors meeting file, box 3, RG 443; Annual Report of Program Activities, Clinical Center, 1972, Nr 6.

 Demoralization was rife in scientific leadership as well. After three vetoes of the HEW budget and putative administration efforts to consolidate all the institutes into a single administrative structure, there was a real fear in the scientific community that the federal government might jettison commitments to support medical education, hospital construction, and basic research itself.


Science, 179: 546-47, February 9, 1973; 180: 843-44, May 25, 1973; 182: 460-61, September 23, 1973; 183: 1325-26, December 28, 1973; Burroughs Mider, “The Federal Impact on Biomedical Research,” in John Z. Bowers and Elizabeth Purcell, eds., Advances in American Medicine at the Bicentennial, vol. 2, New York: Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation, 1976, pp. 861-64.


Dr. Andrew Morrow in Surgery
Dr. Andrew Morrow in surgery, inserting dye into patient's heart with a bronchoscope, a technique developed at the Clinical Center.

First Patient in the ADA Gene Therapy Program
Dr. W. French Anderson (l.), Dr. Michael Blaese (r.), and Dr. Kenneth Culver (c.) attending the first patient in the ADA gene therapy program, September 1990. The patient is undergoing apheresis.

Reassessment and Renewal