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NHGRI Announces Spending Plans After NIH Budget Approved

WASHINGTON, Dec 20 – The National Human Genome Research Institute said it would use a budget increase of almost $50 million to $382 million for fiscal year 2001 to finance several new initiatives, including the establishment of academic “centers of excellence” for genomics and bioinformatics.

Kathy Hudson, assistant director of NHGRI, said the increase would enable the institute to establish a new program, like that of the National Science Foundation, to offer grants to multi-investigator, interdisciplinary teams to look at particular biological problems on a “genomic scale.” Priority will be given to those that integrate computational and experimental approaches.

Mouse and rat genome sequencing efforts and functional genomics initiatives will also benefit from the additional funds, Hudson said.

Earlier this year, Congress approved other agency budgets and some of the increases have been earmarked for genomic research. The Department of Energy will allocate $117 million to genomics in fiscal year 2001, up from $103 million in 2000. The NSF, which received $4.4 billion for fiscal year 2001, up from $3.9 billion in 2000 but short of President Clinton’s $4.6 billion request, also intends to step up spending for genomics-related research.

When the allocations within the NSF are finalized, plant genome research is expected to get about $85 million of its $102 million request, up from $79 million last year. Other programs in biology and computer science also support research in genomics and bioinformatics, but information on how they will fare was not immediately available since they depend on grants that have not yet been awarded.

Congress, however, cut the budget for the Department of Agriculture by about 5 percent to $100.2 billion for 2001. The USDA could not comment on what impact this would have on genomics research.

Approval of the NIH’s budget, which is included in the contentious labor, health and human services, and education appropriations bill, was delayed due to protracted congressional negotiations that ran until the end of last week. Labor, health and human services, and education was the last of 14 appropriations bills to be settled.

The NIH increases, however, enjoyed bipartisan support. A plan to double the NIH budget in five years was initiated in 1999, and is “on track so far,” Hudson said. While campaigning, President-elect George W. Bush pledged to support the doubling, as did Vice President Al Gore.

The total NIH budget for 2001 was increased by $2.5 billion, or 14%, to $20.3 billion. The increase was distributed fairly evenly, with most of the individual institutes getting about 14 percent more than last year.

Congressional leaders inserted language in the report accompanying the 2001 appropriations bill recommending that the NHGRI look for genes related to juvenile (Type I) diabetes. They also suggested establishing a research program to define the genes that control the workings of the kidney. In these efforts, the NHGRI would be cooperating with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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