Scientists Claim 'Flat Funding' for NIH Despite Increases

By Penny Starr | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

Washington ( - Official numbers from the Office of Management and Budget show that funding for the National Institute of Health has more than doubled between 1998 and 2007 - a $16 million increase - and yet experts from Harvard, Duke, and other prestigious academic research institutions gathered Tuesday to discuss a collaborative report claiming "five years of flat funding" for the NIH.

"What we are saying is, essentially flat funding," Kevin Casey, associate vice president of government, community and public affairs at Harvard University, said at the briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in response to a question asked by Cybercast News Service.

"Since 2003 through President Bush's budget submission for next year, it will be about six years of flat funding," Casey added. He said between 1998 and 2003, Congress doubled the funding to NIH each year, but since 2003, annual increases have been modest and don't account for inflation.

"I believe the final number (of increased annual funding) was a 1.8 percent increase and inflation for biomedical research is in the range of 3.8, possible 4 plus percent per year," Casey said. Watch Video

The report, "A Broken Pipeline? Flat Funding of the NIH Puts a Generation of Science at Risk," was co-authored by Brown, Duke, Harvard, Ohio State and Vanderbilt Universities, the University of California-Los Angeles and Partners Healthcare.

The focus of the briefing was the claim that without more funding for the NIH, "the U.S. stands to lose a generation of young researchers and the cures they could discover," according to a press release issued at the event. Members of the panel testified that young researchers who didn't get funding for their projects might choose another career.

But during presentations by a panel that included two young medical researchers, experts said the money given to such researchers by the NIH has decreased from 29 percent of federal funds in 1990 to only 25 percent of those funds in 2007.

When asked by Cybercast News Service why the NIH reduced the funds given to the young researchers it fears losing, panelist Robert Golden - dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the UW-Madison vice chancellor for medical affairs and a professor of psychiatry - said with a tighter budget, "senior" researchers usually are favored for funding by the NIH over less tenured researchers.

In response to another question asked by the press about how many young researchers have been affected by smaller annual funding increases for NIH over the past several years, Golden said he did not know.

"We need to do a better job at that," Golden said. "As far as I know, we don't have a database on that."

In 1998, Congress appropriated $11,853 billion to the NIH, according to the Office of Management and Budget. In 2007, the NIH received $27,058 billion. In President Bush's 2009 budget proposal, the NIH will get $28,371 billion, or an estimated increase of funding over the past decade of 127 percent.

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