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Hoping for More

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, tells the Chronicle of Higher Education's Paul Basken that he is encouraged by the recent budget increase request for his agency that is part of President Barack Obama's budget proposal. That $4 trillion budget proposal for FY 2016 includes some $31.3 billion for the NIH.

"[E]verybody's hoping that we might turn the corner in what has been a pretty difficult 12 year period," Collins says.

But both Collins and Basken note that the budget proposal is just that, a proposal, and the final outcome may be quite different that what's been requested. Basken points out that though Obama asking for a $1 billion increase for NIH, Congress has often given him about $1 billion less than requested. Still, Collins says that hasn't always been the case, and says that he is "guardedly optimistic."

"[T]he one thing that people on both sides of the aisle and in both houses and in both branches seem to agree is that medical research is really important," Collins says. He adds that there also seems to be an "intellectual agreement that something ought to be done to try to get NIH back on a stable trajectory."

Collins also says that he's excited about the recently announced Precision Medicine Initiative that aims to study the genetic and lifestyle data from a cohort of a million Americans. The timing Collins tells Basken seems to be right as the cost of genomic analysis falls, new tools — often smartphone-based — to assess health and disease arise, and as patients become more involved in research.

"Put that all together, and maybe we couldn't have done this five years ago, but maybe we can now," he says.