Monday, May 28, 2007

"Slump in NIH Funding Is Taking Toll on Research"

Read the full article by Christopher Lee in The Washington Post, May 28, 2007.

NIH funding has been flat since 2003. The funding for Bush's wars is getting bigger, the tax cuts limit government revenues, and one of the things to suffer has been funding for biomedical research.

The number of applications for research grants has been going up. Thus there is an ever smaller portion of the applications that are funded by NIH. In part, I suppose, this is a viscous cycle; as the probability of any given proposal being funded goes down, each researcher needs to submit more proposals to assure some source of funding. Unfortunately, writing research proposals takes time away from actually doing research.

Apparently, however, a more important cause of the increase in proposals is that more laboratories have been built and put into operation and more people trained to do science, The rapid increase in funding for NIH in the decade before the Bush wars, due to the rapid increase in options available in biomedical and biological research, convinced institutions to invest in new capacity to do the research. The lag involved in building research capacity is long -- it takes a long time to design, finance, and build a laboratory, and longer still to train the scientific team to staff it well. Now, as the new capacity is coming online, the funds are not available to finance its utilization.

Some people are leaving the field of research science. More pernicious, those making funding decisions are apparently becoming more conservative, funding only those applications that appear to be "sure things". The most important research, however, is often that which is most exploratory, and therefore difficult to sell to conservative decision makers.

As my previous posting has indicated, with the huge health benefits that seem to be available from biomedical research, it is not the right time to be stingy with funding. (I will post on brain and cognitive research soon. I think it is "the next big thing". It too is largely funded out of NIH.) I suspect that U.S. leadership in biomedical technology will not only benefit the health of the people of the nation, but if it can be capitalized the economic health of our industry in a globalizing world.

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