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The NIH Almanac

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Mission | Important Events | Legislative Chronology | Director | Divisions | Photo Gallery


The mission of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and alternative medicine interventions and their roles in improving health and health care. The Center's vision is that scientific evidence informs decision making by the public, by health care professionals, and by health policymakers regarding use and integration of these approaches.

NCCAM's programs and organization incorporate 3 long-range goals:

  • Advance the science and practice of symptom management.
  • Develop effective, practical, personalized strategies for promoting health and well-being.
  • Enable better evidence-based decision making regarding complementary and alternative medicine use and its integration into health care and health promotion.

Five major objectives serve the above goals:

  • Advance research on mind and body interventions, practices, and disciplines.
  • Advance research on complementary and alternative medicine natural products.
  • Increase understanding of "real world" patterns and outcomes of complementary and alternative medicine use and its integration into health care and health promotion.
  • Improve the capacity of the field to carry out rigorous research.
  • Develop and disseminate objective, evidence-based information on complementary and alternative medicine interventions.

NCCAM sponsors and conducts research to study complementary health approaches, using scientific methods and advanced technologies, at scientific institutions in the United States and around the world. Examples of studies include investigator-initiated and NCCAM-solicited projects, intramural research, basic mechanistic research, translational research, clinical trials, and research centers.

NCCAM also disseminates authoritative information through many avenues, including:

Important Events in NCCAM History

October 1991—The U.S. Congress passes legislation (Public Law 102-170) that provides $2 million in funding for fiscal year 1992 to establish an office within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate and evaluate promising unconventional medical practices.

October 1992—Dr. Joseph J. Jacobs is appointed first Director of the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM).

June 1993—The NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 (P.L.103-43) formally establishes the OAM within the Office of the Director, NIH, to facilitate study and evaluation of complementary and alternative medical practices and to disseminate the resulting information to the public.

October 1998—NCCAM is established by Congress under Title VI, Section 601 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999 (P.L. 105-277). This bill amends Title IV of the Public Health Service Act and elevates the status of the OAM to an NIH Center.

January 1999—Dr. William R. Harlan is named Acting Director of NCCAM.

February 1999—The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) signs the organizational change memorandum creating NCCAM and making it the 25th independent component of NIH.

May 1999—The NCCAM Trans-Agency CAM Coordinating Committee is established by the NCCAM Director to foster the Center's collaboration across the HHS and other Federal agencies.

August 1999—The National Advisory Council on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NACCAM) is chartered.

October 1999—Dr. Stephen E. Straus is appointed the first Director of NCCAM.

September 2000—NCCAM publishes its first strategic plan, Expanding Horizons of Health Care.

February 2001—NCCAM and the National Library of Medicine launch CAM on PubMed, a comprehensive Internet source of research-based information.

May 2004—NCCAM and the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce findings from the largest nationally representative survey to date on Americans' use of complementary health approaches. The data is from an NCCAM-funded supplement to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

January 2005—The National Academies' Institute of Medicine releases a report, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, requested by NCCAM and Federal partners.

February 2005—NCCAM publishes its second strategic plan, Expanding Horizons of Health Care: Strategic Plan 2005-2009.

November 2006—The Center's founding Director, Dr. Stephen E. Straus, steps down and becomes Senior Advisor to NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein is named Acting Director of NCCAM.

May 2007—NCCAM establishes a Complementary and Integrative Medicine Consult Service at the NIH Clinical Center.

January 2008—Dr. Josephine P. Briggs is named second Director of NCCAM.

December 2008—The 2007 NHIS yields the first nationally representative data on children's use of complementary health approaches and on trends in adults' use of those approaches.

February 2009—NCCAM marks its 10th anniversary with a year of special events, including the inaugural Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and NCCAM's 10th Anniversary Research Symposium.

July 2009—The 2007 NHIS yields the first nationally representative data on Americans' spending on complementary health approaches.

February 2011—NCCAM releases its third strategic plan, Exploring the Science of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Third Strategic Plan 2011–2015.

July 2012—M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., is appointed scientific director of a new, state-of-the-art NIH research program headquartered in NCCAM’s intramural division and focusing upon the role of the brain in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain.

NCCAM Legislative Chronology

October 1991—Public Law 102-170 provided $2 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish an office and advisory panel to recommend a research program that would investigate promising unconventional medical practices.

June 1993—Public Law 103-43, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, established the OAM within the Office of the Director of NIH. The purpose of the Office was to facilitate the evaluation of alternative medical treatment modalities and to disseminate information to the public via an information clearinghouse.

October 1998—Public Law 105-277, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, elevated the status and expanded the mandate of the OAM by authorizing the establishment of NCCAM. This act amended Title IV of the Public Health Service Act.

Biographical Sketch of NCCAM Director Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.

Josephine P. Briggs, M.D., an accomplished researcher and physician, is Director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Dr. Briggs brings a focus on translational research to the study of complementary and integrative health practices help build a fuller understanding of the usefulness and safety of these approaches.

Dr. Briggs received her A.B. cum laude in biology from Harvard-Radcliffe College and her M.D. from Harvard Medical School. She completed her residency training in internal medicine and nephrology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, where she was also chief resident in the Department of Internal Medicine and a fellow in clinical nephrology. She then held a research fellowship in physiology at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Dr. Briggs was a research scientist for 7 years at the Physiology Institute at the University of Munich, Munich, Germany.

In 1985, Dr. Briggs moved to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, where she held several academic positions, including associate chair for research in the Department of Internal Medicine and professorships in the Division of Nephrology, Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Physiology.

Dr. Briggs joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 as director of the Division of Kidney, Urologic, and Hematologic Diseases at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), where she oversaw extramural research activities. While at NIDDK, she co-chaired an NIH Roadmap Committee on Translational Core Resources. In 2006, she accepted a position as senior scientific officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Dr. Briggs' research interests include the renin-angiotensin system, diabetic nephropathy, circadian regulation of blood pressure, and the effect of antioxidants in kidney disease. She has published more than 175 research articles, book chapters, and scholarly publications. Dr. Briggs also has served on the editorial boards of several journals (including the Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, Seminars in Nephrology, and Hypertension) and was deputy editor for the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Dr. Briggs is an elected member of the American Association of Physicians and the American Society of Clinical Investigation and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Volhard Prize of the German Nephrological Society, the Alexander von Humboldt Scientific Exchange Award, and NIH Director's Awards for her role in the development of the Trans-NIH Type I Diabetes Strategic Plan and her leadership of the Trans-NIH Zebrafish Committee. From December 2011 to December 2012, Dr. Briggs was appointed acting director of the Division of Clinical Innovation at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), NIH, a position she held concurrently with the directorship of NCCAM. Dr. Briggs serves on a number of oversight and leadership boards at the NIH. She is a member of the NIH Steering Committee, the senior most governing board at the NIH, as well as the Advisory Board for Clinical Research, the Clinical Center Governing Board, and the Scientific Management and Review Board.

NCCAM Directors

Name In Office from To
William R. Harlan (Acting) January 1999 October 1999
Stephen E. Straus October 1999 November 2006
Ruth L. Kirschstein (Acting) November 2006 January 2008
Josephine P. Briggs January 2008 Present


The Center is organized into 9 major offices and divisions.

The Office of the Director plans, directs, coordinates, and evaluates the development of programs and activities of the Center. Within the Office:

  • The Office of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs plans, coordinates, and monitors NCCAM's clinical trials, serving as a resource for investigators and helping to ensure the safety of trials; oversees the Center's Data Safety Monitoring Board; and ensures compliance with Institutional Review Board and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.
  • The Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation reports on NCCAM's scientific initiatives and programs, and oversees congressional testimony and the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.
  • The Office of Communications and Public Liaison handles activities pertaining to the dissemination of information about NCCAM and complementary and alternative medicine. Its work includes maintaining the Center's website, operating the Information Clearinghouse, serving as liaison with the media, and implementing education and outreach initiatives.
  • The Office of Administrative Operations is responsible for financial management, administrative operations, and the design and implementation of innovative business and management systems.

The Division of Extramural Activities develops, implements, and coordinates extramural programs and policies within NCCAM. It also coordinates meetings of NCCAM's advisory council and manages the Center's committee management activities. Within the Division, two Offices have a specialized focus:

The Division of Extramural Research develops and oversees NCCAM-funded research and research training programs conducted across the country and around the world. The Division also coordinates research efforts with other NIH Institutes and Centers. Staff provide guidance regarding NCCAM research interests and priorities, and funding mechanisms and opportunities. Periodically, they offer grantsmanship workshops.

The Division of Intramural Research conducts basic, clinical, and translational research focusing on the role of the brain in perceiving, managing, and modifying pain. Within the Division, the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Consult Service offers clinical consultation to NIH Clinical Center staff, and the NCCAM Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series provides overviews of current research and practice in the field.

This page last reviewed on August 4, 2014

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