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Making the Most

The US National Institutes of Health has had to do more with less. While its budget seems to have increased slightly, after taking inflation and the rising cost of research into account, Nature notes that it has actually declined.

Francis Collins, the director of the health agency, has been looking toward big data and translational research to squeeze the most out of what NIH receives. He appointed Philip Bourne as the agency's first data scientist late last year. And Nature asks him in a Q&A whether big data could help with the funding situation.

"With some trepidation, we're starting to look at the long-term productivity of the grants that get funded to see whether there are any kinds of metrics that you might use to assess the vibrancy of a field," Collins says. Additionally, he says that the agency could scour meeting abstracts to uncover areas of growth.

Collins also notes that the emphasis on translational medicine at NIH is not to take away from basic research — he says basic research is the agency's future — but to make the most out of the findings uncovered through basic research.

"Every chance I get, I try to make it clear that [the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences] is just trying to make sure that we make the most of these discoveries, not shift the balance of funding. NCATS was basically cobbled together by taking other programs within other parts of the NIH and assembling them into a central hub," Collins tells Nature. "There is almost no new money there at all."