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Budget Genomics Will Gain as NIH Achieves Doubled-budget Goal

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NIH Director Elias Zerhouni got quite a valentine this February 14: an e-mail informing him that the House and Senate had approved a $27.2 billion budget for his agency.

The 2003 appropriation, which went next to President Bush, fulfills a goal set five years ago to double the then-$13.6 billion NIH budget. The 2003 figure is a $4 billion increase over the 2002 budget.

While staffers pored over the 1,100-page Senate document, Zerhouni gave a rough outline of the agency’s spending plans at the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention held in Denver.

Zerhouni — who in his previous post as executive vice dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, established a microarray core facility, an informatics program, and a proteomics research effort — listed gene and protein arrays first among several new technologies that have exacerbated the complexity of medical research. He went on to describe several genomics-related initiatives on NIH’s agenda.

To reverse the spiraling costs of medical care in the US, Zerhouni said, “there’s a need for new strategies and a need to take advantage of the revolution in biomedical sciences.” Necessary approaches, he said, will include being able to understand diseases at the level of genes, proteins, and full dynamic systems. For instance, he noted, the financial burden of Alzheimer’s disease could be halved if onset of the disease could be postponed by five years.

Included in a set of new trans-NIH priorities, Zerhouni said, are: promoting innovative approaches to systems biology; pushing the field toward more quantitative analysis of dynamic genome-wide expression patterns and their controls; comprehensive analysis of complex molecular networks and their regulation; and a dedicated effort to stimulate development of advanced research technologies. Zerhouni said the agency also intends to launch a systematic effort to enhance the national research infrastructure.

In addition, NIH will support the emerging trend toward “coordinated centers of research,” he said, by making new investments in disease-focused research centers. Zerhouni also said that the agency would address new threats such as biological weapons and emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases, but gave no specifics about budgetary mandates.

— Adrienne J. Burke

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