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New Year s Resolution: Ask for More Research Money

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 31 - Looking for a New Year's resolution? How about lobbying Congress for continued support of science and biotechnology, suggests Harold Varmus and others.


"Stroke your member of Congress," Varmus, president of MemorialSloan-KetteringCancerCenterand a former director of the National Institutes of Health, told researchers at the American Society for Cell Biology meeting here earlier this month. Thank them for supporting the NIH appropriations bill "then tell them something about what you do, and how NIH or NSF or DOE money makes a difference in what you do," he suggested.


"The NIH has a magic bullet that appeals to Congress: bringing home the bacon," said Varmus. "NIH money flows to virtually all congressional districts."


The NIH bill, which will be voted on in the new year by the incoming Congress, calls for an approximately 15 percent annual increase to $27 billion. But the increase, if approved, will not be distributed across the board. $1.7 billion is earmarked for bioterrorism-related research, of which a significant portion will go to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This gives the NIAID an increase in their budget significantly greater than 15 percent but will translate into an approximate increase below 10 percent for the other institutes, said Varmus.


And more money does not necessarily translate into research opportunities for many more scientists. While the budget has been on the rise, so has the size of the average grant, said Elias Zerhouni, director of the NIH. The average NIH grant has risen from about $255,000 in 1998 to $370,000 estimated for 2003, according to Zerhouni, who said the increases reflect both inflation and increasing technology costs associated with research in general. In 1998, there were 27,000 grants compared to 38,000 projected in 2003, said Zerhouni.


Peter Kyros, an ASCB representative in Washington, recommends lobbying your representative in order to protect your piece of the pie. Visit new members of Congress, who "need to be educated" about science, said Kyros. Or if a trip to Washingtonor the congressman's local office is not feasible, Kyros recommends writing a letter.


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