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As NCI Grants Decline 30 Percent, Harvard Researcher Warns Congress of 'Devastating' Consequences

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A Harvard University cell biologist and cancer researcher told lawmakers on Monday that tightening budgets at the National Institutes of Health, if continued, could have “devastating” effects on new biomedical research fields, including genomics.
According to Joan Brugge, scaled back funding has already caused grants at the National Cancer Institute to decline between 24 to 29 percent, and has lowered success rates for initial investigators to 5 percent.
Brugge, testifying Monday before the US Senate Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services Committeem said that declining federal funds for biomedical research makes it harder for researchers in cutting-edge fields to get funding, eats into a quarter of existing grants, and lowers the chance that young scientists will get the support they need to fuel their research and careers.
Brugge, who is head of the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, expressed “profound concerns” about how this situation has damaged cancer research in particular — her field of interest.
The NCI runs an Office of Cancer Genomics, which oversees programs such as The Cancer Genome Atlas, the NIH Mammalian Gene Collection, the Cancer Genome Anatomy Project, and the Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility program.
She spoke at a hearing in which representatives of major US told lawmakers of the importance of new research, and of the pain being felt due to weak funding.
“Four years of flat funding [at the NIH] have had a devastating impact on the trajectory of cancer research,” Brugge told the committee.
Brugge was referring to the fiscal years between 2003 and 2007, when NIH funding declined dropped 8.3 percent after adjusted for biomedical inflation.
Success rates of grants can be misleading, Brugge said, because those reflect the first, second, and third submissions of a grant. According to Brugge, the eventual success rate for obtaining NIH grants is currently about 20 percent, but that rate gets cut in half for the first submissions.
Not only are fewer grants being accepted, but the size of “nearly every” grant has shrunk by an average of 24 to 29 percent at NCI, Brugge said. 
Initial investigators have only a 5-percent success rate, Brugge said, signifying a trend that she believes will deter young scientists from pushing their research, which could stymie their careers.
Brugge told GenomeWeb News after her testimony that she is “concerned about young people being discouraged to even enter science.”

Her remarks come just a month after the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology fiscal 2008 budget proposal for the NIH, claiming it “deal[s] harshly with our country’s premier medical research agency.

And FASEB’s remarks came one week after the group for the four primary federal bodies that support genomics and proteomics research.

One month earlier, the National Science Foundation found that inflation-adjusted federal funding going to the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Department of Energy’s Human Genome Project will likely to decline 1.5 percent in fiscal 2007 over fiscal 2006.

“A major theme” of the hearing “was that under these conditions what is affected most is funding for the most creative, risky grants,” Brugge said.

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