BETHESDA, MD (Reuters Health) Feb 28 - Leading scientists at the National Institutes of Health welcomed Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to their campus today to celebrate the record increase in the institutes' funding contained in President Bush's new budget proposal.
Thompson appeared at NIH on the same day that the president's budget is to be officially unveiled to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The budget asks for nearly $2.8 billion in new funding for medical research at NIH, the largest single-year increase ever requested for the agency.
"There has been extraordinary support [from Congress] in the last few years. The wind remains in our sails," said Dr. Richard Klausner, the director of the National Cancer Institute.
While the proposed $2.8-billion increase is a record for NIH, the figure falls short of the rate of budget increases the agency is supposed to get over the next 5 years. Thompson told reporters that "simple arithmetic" means that researchers can expect even more money to come from Congress in the near future.
"There's going to have to be a $4.1 billion increase in the next fiscal year" to reach the 5-year funding goal, he said.
"Perhaps Congress will see the administration's funding request this year and up it," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, told Reuters Health.
Still, it remains unclear whether NIH will be able to spend the money as freely as many researchers would like. The Bush administration is still considering whether to allow federal funding of research on human embryonic stem cells.
"If you don't fund [stem cell] research, you're narrowing the number of avenues we can pursue. It would be a major setback for several types of research," Dr. Fred Levine, a microbiologist and diabetes researcher at the University of California at San Diego, told Reuters Health.
Dr. Levine added that a denial of federal funding would slow, but not stop, embryonic stem cell research in the United States. Some stem cell studies are funded by private organizations, including the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, which spends $1.2 million per year on such research, according to spokesperson Randi Hoffman.
The administration has not yet made a decision on funding embryonic cell research, Thompson said. Scientists are eager for a decision because their NIH grant applications are due in 2 weeks.
"I would tell [scientists]
to put in the applications" even while the administration considers whether
or not to fund them, Thompson said.
2000 Reuters Ltd