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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Safety for Millions: The Biologics Control Act of 1902 Centennial

This showcase exhibit at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, uses a variety of artifacts and graphics to capture the origins of regulation over a large and important class of medicines in this country. The need for this control is explained in the therapeutic disasters in St. Louis, Missouri and Camden, New Jersey, where accidentally tainted biological products killed nearly two dozen children. The exhibit uses the earliest known sample of diphtheria antitoxin in the U.S. and a laboratory notebook from 1895 (recently discovered by CBER) to show the early interest of the Hygienic Laboratory in establishing a standard for production of this new therapy for a deadly disease. This laboratory was the precursor to the National Institutes of Health, and its regulatory functions were eventually passed down to the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

The exhibit documents government concern with vaccine and blood safety by exhibiting a prototype blood irradiator used to help protect the blood supply against hepatitis, a dramatic newspaper headline and various polio samples that capture the hope and concern associated with the release of the first vaccine for polio , and an early AIDS testing kit to help protect patients receiving blood from that deadly disease. These are among the objects, graphic material, and text in this exhibit that help establish the 1902 Act as the source of ongoing safety for millions of Americans.