Pound of Cure National Institutes of Health Pushing for Breakthroughs

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Federal cancer research czar Richard Klausner

decided to use a diagram in his presentation: A poster-sized

blown-up cancer cell filled with arrows and scientific shorthand

showing how cancer grows and grows and grows.

But Congressman Steny Hoyer didn't want to talk cell diagrams.

Hoyer, D-Md., said he just had been to the funeral of a breast

cancer victim. The woman's widower saw Hoyer and wondered aloud

why decades of federally funded research efforts had failed to

prevent his wife's death.

Now Hoyer was sitting on a dais looking down at Klausner, who

had come before Hoyer's appropriations subcommittee to explain

how he and other National Institutes of Health officials planned

to spend an unprecedented amount of federal funding on cancer

research.

The NIH, the federal government's medical research agency, is

the primary beneficiary of the "21st Century Research Fund,"

President Clinton announced in this year's State of the Union

address. As such, the NIH is in line to get a boost of more than

$1 billion in federal funding this year, raising its total

budget to about $14.8 billion.

That's not to mention the more than $480 million in

construction work planned or already under way at the NIH's

305-acre campus in Bethesda, Md.

But with the money comes heavy responsibility.

Hoyer told his funeral story with more melancholy than anger,

and he said to Klausner with respect that "tens of millions of

people are obviously relying on you."

But he also alluded to the fact that 27 years and more than $30

billion in federal cancer research funding have come and gone

since President Nixon declared war on the disease.

While progress has been marked by strides in prevention and new

treatment, the disease still claims victims, most recently and

notably, Linda McCartney.

"It seems to me we have spent a lot of money," Hoyer said, "and

it [progress toward a cure] has been slow."

The NIH

The NIH is described as the world's leading biomedical research

institution.

It is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

just like the federal Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention.

The NIH is an umbrella organization. It reigns over two dozen

distinct centers, divisions and institutes, including the

National Cancer Institute, the National Human Genome Research

Institute and the Office of AIDS Research.

These sub-organizations employ scientists, establish research

labs and have budgets and their own congressional appropriations

hearings.

But the NIH also funds other institutions, including research

universities, academic medical centers and even start-up biotech

companies.

NIH funding supports 50,000 scientists at more than 1,700 U.S.

research facilities.

One example is Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, which is getting about

$1 million in NIH funding this year. It supports such work as

John Hardy's genetic studies of Alzheimer's disease.

The University of Florida is getting about $50 million in NIH

funding this year. About $35 million of that goes to the UF

College of Medicine. That's about 15 percent of the medical

school's budget.

NIH funding has been the financial pillar on which UF's

nationally recognized diabetes research work has been built.

"It is extremely important to us," said Kenneth Berns, the dean

of UF's medical school, who also is an NIH-funded researcher

active in UF's gene therapy program. …

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