Bills to Fund NIH Advance in House and Senate

Legislation to fund research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has progressed through House and Senate committees.

Legislation to fund research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has progressed through House and Senate committees. The House Appropriations Committee reported legislation the week of June 14, which will be scheduled for floor debate after Congress’s July 4 recess. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported its version of the spending legislation on June 21, 2007.

The House bill to fund the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education is $151.5 billion overall, an increase of $6.9 billion or 4.8 percent above the Fiscal Year 2007 level. The Senate bill was larger, at just over $152 billion.

National Institutes of Health —The House bill provides $29.650 billion for NIH, a 2.6 percent increase ($750 million) over the 2007 level. The report stipulates that the bill would allow the average cost of new research grants to rise. The bill includes $495 million for the Common Fund through the Office of the NIH Director. The fund is 1.67 percent of the total NIH appropriation. In addition, the House bill includes nearly $111 million for the National Children’s Study (NSC), sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, but which has attracted support from many institutes and other government agencies. The President’s budget released in February provided no funds for NCS.

The Senate bill would provide a $1 billion increase for NIH over Fiscal Year 2007 levels. In the report, the Senate Appropriations Committee noted that the $1 billion increase will allow the NIH, “for the first time since fiscal year 2005, to plan on increasing the average costs of new grants (by 3 percent) and provide the full ‘committed level’ for non-competing grants.” The Senate provides $110 million for the NCS. For the NIH Common Fund, the Senate Committee provided $531.3 million, a ten percent increase above the FY 2007 level. Within the Common Fund, $28.5 million is approved for the Director’s Pioneer Awards, $55 million for the Director’s New Innovator Awards and $25 million is available to be awarded according to the Director’s discretion with “a flexible research authority.” The Committee will continue to specify in bill language the amount appropriated for the Common Fund, and will not continue the prior years’ practice of transferring a certain percentage of each Institute and Center’s (ICs) appropriation to the fund.

The reports accompanying the House and Senate bills include lots of language pertaining to behavioral and social sciences research. Much of this language appears as a result of lobbying from the Science Government Relations Office. Below is a sampling of the areas that were emphasized. Report language does not have the force of law but is among the factors that NIH institutes carefully consider when allocating resources.

National Institute on Aging (NIA)

Stereotypes—NIA is encouraged to expand its work on the role of stereotypes in the functioning of the aging and elderly. The Committee is interested in the social and cultural transformation that is taking place as the population ages, and as the workforce ages, and looks forward to additional research on stereotypes that may hinder or otherwise affect how our society manages the transformation.

Exercise and aging—Given the intriguing findings about the healthy impact of exercise on many aspects of aging, from improved cognition, to decreased depression, to fewer falls and fractures, the Committee is very supportive of NIA taking additional steps in exercise research.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Behavioral science—The Committee continues its strong support for the broad portfolio of behavioral research at the NICHD.

Childhood obesity—The Committee continues its support for NICHD research on the behavioral and social factors that contribute to childhood obesity.

National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)

Training investigators from disadvantaged backgrounds—The Committee encourages NIGMS to seek out innovative partnerships with professional societies and other scientific and educational organizations to recruit and retain minority or disadvantaged students in the research pipeline.

National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Behavioral research—The Committee encourages NIEMS to maintain its steps toward integrating basic behavioral and social science research into its portfolio. NIEHS is urged to expand partnerships with OBSSR and other institutes to fund research on common interest including gene and environment interactions and health.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Underage Drinking – The Committee commends NIAAA for its inter-disciplinary approach to understanding and addressing underage drinking within the context of overall development. The Committee is aware that this framework developed by NIAAA’s Initiative on Underage Drinking formed the scientific foundation of the “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking.” The Committee further commends NIAAA for spearheading research to address key aspects of underage drinking.

Patterns of Alcohol Consumption – The Committee commends NIAAA for recognizing the central importance of maladaptive patterns of drinking in the diagnostic classification of alcohol use disorders, and the development of alcohol-associated organ damage. The Committee encourages NIAAA’s efforts to include measurement of quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption in new classification systems of alcohol problems. The Committee also encourages NIAAA to continue to fund research that defines both safe and hazardous levels of alcohol consumption for various segments of the population.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Social Neuroscience. Research-based knowledge about the dynamic interactions of genes with environment confirms addiction as a complex and chronic disease of the brain with many contributors to its expression in individuals. The Committee applauds NIDA’s involvement in last year’s “social neuroscience” request for applications, and this year’s “genes, environment, and development initiative” request for applications. NIDA is encouraged to continue its focus on the interplay between genes, environment, and social factors and their relevance to drug abuse and addiction.

Drug Abuse and HIV/AIDS. The Committee understands that drug abuse and addiction continue to fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS, and that drug abuse prevention and treatment interventions can be very effective in reducing HIV risk. Research should continue to examine every aspect of HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and addiction, including risk behaviors associated with both injection and non-injection drug abuse, how drugs of abuse alter brain function and impair decision making, and HIV prevention and treatment strategies for diverse groups. The Committee applauds the Institute for holding a Spring 2007 conference titled “Drug Abuse and Risky Behaviors: The Evolving Dynamics of HIV/AIDS,” and urges the Institute to continue supporting research to develop and test interventions designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

National Institute of Mental Health

Clinical research-- The Committee applauds NIMH's continued commitment to the goals of the NIH Roadmap Initiative on reengineering the clinical research enterprise through the new clinical trials networks on bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. The Committee strongly supports these efforts and urges NIMH to examine treatments of mental disorders across the lifespan, with particular attention paid to aging populations and youth, and to the effects of psychopharmacological treatments on cognition, emotional development, and other co-morbid conditions. The Committee further urges NIMH to examine cultural factors, such as stigma, that influence the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders.