The 'Darkest Year Ever' for the NIH?

Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD


October 03, 2013

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A Crisis of Underfunding in Biomedical Research

Hello. This is Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman of Columbia University, speaking to you today for Medscape.

I want to talk to you today about something that has deeply disturbed me, and that is the fact that our government and our government policies seem deeply out of sync with our medical needs and scientific opportunities. What prompted me to comment on this today was an article published in the New York Times[1] in which Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said, "2013 is the darkest year ever for the NIH whose budget is at its lowest inflation-adjusted appropriations level in more than a decade."

In effect, the sequestration (as the kind of final straw) or the decline in funding of biomedical research through the NIH, in combination with the lack of increases and inflation-adjusted reductions in the NIH budget in the preceding years since the beginning of the great recession of 2008, has effectively undone the NIH budget. This could not have happened at a worse time. Why?

The systematic decline in biomedical research funding through the NIH as a result of sequestration has made more difficult the possibility of getting funding for badly needed basic applied biomedical research. This has either reduced the activity or required the dismantling of research laboratories. It has also thwarted or impeded the careers of physicians and scientists pursuing biomedical research and has discouraged young, talented physicians and scientists who wanted to pursue research from going into it.

The biggest threat, apart from another country or army invading our country, is economic turmoil. The biggest threat to our economy is the rising costs of healthcare. The best way of reducing burgeoning healthcare costs and improving quality of life is through biomedical research to facilitate a better understanding of disease, treatments, and prevention of illness. When it comes to brain disorders, particularly mental disorders, we have never been in a position like this in terms of the level of knowledge that we have, the talent and size of the workforce, and the capacity to learn more through research.


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