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Posted on Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

We all benefit from investing in biomedical research through the NIH

By Letters to the Editor

Investing in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) not only saves lives and boosts the economy, it also has an intensely personal impact right here at home. I am one of the estimated 40,000 Michiganians living with Parkinson’s disease, for which there is no cure, nor treatment to halt this disease’s cruel progression.

The National Institute of Health is the single largest funder of medical research in the United States, and the research it funds drives innovation and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of Americans. I was disappointed to learn that President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget holds NIH funding at its current level, with no increase or adjustment for inflation.

With the threat of future cuts looming, federal investment in biomedical research - and the grants NIH gives to research institutions here in Michigan - are critical, not just to jobs and our state’s economy, but also to my future, and that of my family, and millions of others.

I call on Senators Levin and Stabenow and Representative Dingell to support increased funding to at least $32 billion for the NIH. A sustained investment in research is not simply good policy - it makes sound fiscal sense.

As a resident of Michigan, I want to reduce the federal budget deficit, but not at the cost of future cures and breakthrough discoveries that may save millions of lives and, in the long run, taxpayer dollars.

Kathleen Russell
Ann Arbor



Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

To the people claiming that NIH freely gives out no-strings-attached money: I would love to see you write a research grant and have it funded. There is a review panel consisting of generalists and specialists in that particular field that thoroughly review the proposed research. They will deny your proposal for anything from not having the "correct" references to having already funded a lab from that general geographical region. Additionally, even if the research was motivated by advancing one's career, are the results not still disseminated? Trespass may be onto something with the effort certification fraud and others may have a point about the NIH deserving some return on investment, but many of the comments here seem to be posted without doing a little research....and this kind doesn't need to be funded.

Betsy de Parry

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

(Continuation from previous). But research is also an economic engine. According to a report by United for Medical Research, NIH funding for research in 2010 generated $69 billion in economic activity in the U.S. and supported 484,939 jobs in every state and D.C. In Michigan, NIH awarded $751 million for research that supported 13,406 jobs. Michigan can't afford the loss of a single one. The report also concluded that every NIH research dollar spent leads to the expenditure of 32 cents by the private medical research sector. And it points to the success of NIH funding. Five of the top 20 best selling drugs in 2010 were developed in large part with NIH funding: monoclonal antibody therapies that generated $35 billion in sales for American companies. Additionally, America is the world leader in cancer research and the development of new therapies, and we didn't get there by chance. We got there because of the long term commitment and steadfast determination by the administrations of both political parties to support and invest in research through NIH and NCI. But we may be slipping. When adjusted for inflation, the NIH budget peaked in 2003 and declined by 12% over the next 5 years, and research awards fell by 21% since 2005. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that national expenditures for research and development as a percentage of GDP were static for the U.S. between 2001-2008 but grew nearly 60% in China and 34% in South Korea. If this trend continues, America not only risks losing our preeminence in biomedical research, but we also risk weakening an important economic engine and jeopardizing the health of our citizens. To sum it up, maintaining NIH funding – even with today's economic challenges - is both logical and practical for more reasons than the fact that it saves lives, although in my humble opinion, that's more than enough reason.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

"Five of the top 20 best selling drugs in 2010 were developed in large part with NIH funding: monoclonal antibody therapies that generated $35 billion in sales for American companies. " Betsy, this is exactly my point. Who do you think paid the $35 billion in sales that these companies got? We did. Who helped fund their development? We did. Something got screwed up from point A to point B. If from just these drugs, the companies had to give back just 1% to the NIH for OUR investment in them, that would be an extra $350 million for research. If they had gotten the seed money from a venture cap firm or bank then they would have had to pay an even greater percentage. Oh, and one more dirty little secret of the NIH - your tax dollars do not fund U.S. companies/researchers exclusively.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

Funding for NIH increased in 2009 by over 20% (Obama admin's first and only budget). American Recovery Act (the "shovel ready" thing) also added additional funding across the board to NIH. The following categories receive more NIH dollars than Parkinson's: Obesity, sexually transmitted diseases (non-AIDs, non-hepatitis), sleep research, youth violence, and violence against women, and minority health. Data available at:

Betsy de Parry

Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

Kathleen, I couldn't agree with you more. I don't know about NIH research for Parkinson's, but I do know that NIH funding for cancer research has saved millions of lives, including mine. Ten years after a diagnosis of an "incurable" form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, I am healthy, thanks to a treatment that was developed right here at UM that was partially funded by NIH. So, like you, I can attest to the fact that NIH funding directly impacts lives and I would caution everyone to remember that a devastating illness may someday affect them or a family member, and it may very well be NIH funding that helps scientists find a new treatment. Could NIH improve? Of course, but in just the last few years, scientists have gained an unprecedented understanding of the mechanism of cancer, and it's guided them to preventive strategies and to new and better treatments for some cancers. The momentum is great, and scientists today stand on the very precipice of accelerating progress faster than ever. But "fast" is relative. Cancer research is not a sprint, but a marathon that unfortunately takes longer than some of us have or than any of us would like. Still, there are more than 12 million cancer survivors alive today, thanks in large part to our nation's investment in research, i.e., funding by the NIH and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of NIH. The question is: will the momentum generated by previous investment be sustained? If so, it will require a continued commitment to research. In 2011, only 7% of all NCI grants had guaranteed funding, down 10% from the previous year, meaning that many worthy proposals that could possibly hold the key to the next breakthrough were unfunded. In human terms, if the idea that saved my life had gone unfunded because it didn't make it into the top 7%, it's almost certain that I'd be pushing up daisies rather than writing this. In other words, reduced funding threatens progress – and lives. (To be cont'd)


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

Let's keep throwing more money at the NIH. Only in government-land do we consider getting the same amount of money to be a "cut." I also love knowing that my tax dollars through the NIH funded a study of the lives of female prostitutes in southwest China. That's the kind of research that will surely improve the health of Americans (that was sarcastic).


Fri, Mar 23, 2012 : 3:42 a.m.

You are correct that the NIH is funding a study of prostitutes in China. Here is a link to a detailed description of the research: However, the investigation of alcohol usage and its involvement with HIV transmission should very well apply to prostitution in America. Actually, Congress proposed a slight increase in the NIH's budget of $300 million.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 8:53 a.m.

All readers posting critical comments should familiarize themselves with the NIH strenuous grant evaluation and selection process: In many cases, researchers must show preliminary data as proof that the work can be done and the chances for success are high. For this reason universities and medical facilities that support research usually provide young investigators with start-up money so that some initial research can be done which will support an NIH grant application. After a vigorous evaluation and ranking process only about 20% of NIH applications receive any funding and often less than is requested. Furthermore, NIH grant recipients must file periodic progress reports and may be subject to audits and on-site visits. The NIH has funded important research that would not be funded otherwise. The Human Genome Project is its most widely known success. As a result of defining the human genomes, diseases are better understood and disease specific treatments are appearing. DNA identification is important to forensic science. Readers should be concerned not about wasteful spending by the NIH but by impending Congressional budget cuts that will reduce funding rates from one-in-five to just one-in-six "worthy" applications. Everyone should read "NIH Sees Looming 2012 Budget as 'Sobering'," published on May 20, 2011 at The article highlights major cuts in NIH funding associated with bills introduced by US House of Representatives Republicans. The article explains the implications of such funding reductions. Some Republican presidential candidates would do away with the NIH entirely. Besides stifling progress of medical science in America closing NIH will abrogate cutting edge research to foreign governments such as China who will use innovative developments to advance its economic advantage over the United States. Consider this when voting in Novembe


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:15 p.m.

And consider that NIH budget was dramatically increased in 2009. For a complete listing of NIH expenditures from 2008 to projected 2013, see:


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Veracity: Your assumption that some of us don't understand the process is false. Many of us probably understand it all too well. The "free money" that the NIH hands out needs reform. Wehrwolf makes some very valid points.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 7:48 a.m.

If the general public could actually see what goes on behind laboratory doors at academic research institutions like UM, they at would at best, be confused, and at worst, disappointed and outraged. Much of the "basic science" research that happens has little to do with advancing public health. Grant proposals requesting NIH money more often than not pay lip service to a perceived public health issue, but the proposed science within is so far removed from any inkling of public health, and in many cases serves only to further the principle investigator's career. A main problem with this kind of research and funding is that it is not goal driven. In the private sector, if you fail to achieve your aims with the money given to you, chances are you're not getting anymore. However, NIH money exists to allow scientists to "dabble" in their field, and while it grants them intellectual freedom, the taxpayers foot the bill and what they get in return in many cases is not commiserate with the amount of money spent. Much of that money is spent on overhead (i.e. the university takes a huge chunk right off the bat), administrative costs, salaries, and providing free tuition and stipends of $25,000+ a year for graduate students who on average take 5-6 years to publish mostly obscure and irrelevant results. Companies that supply laboratories with consumables, equipment, and reagents overcharge, knowing that researchers don't have other alternatives. And in the end, the very people who act as "gatekeepers" of all this money are the ones who are on the NIH dole themselves. Of course there is self interest involved. While ethics is an honorable aspiration, the fact remains that proposals that shouldn't be funded get funded, and those that have actual merit don't. This outdated system needs to be reformed to be more efficient and cost effective, but not by throwing more money at it.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 4:47 a.m.

Just like Medicare and Medicaid are easy pickings for fraud so is NIH funding. Sometimes the grant recipients call it "grantsmanship" but it is fraud. In some cases it is inflated overhead costs but the most common fraud has to do with effort certification. While federal law requires that no investigator can have more than 100% effort even if they work 80 hours per week but I have seen records at UM where the internal reports say that the investigator works up to 200% effort but everything over 100% does not show up on their federal effort reports. This inflates the amount of effort that is paid for by the grant. There needs to be better enforcement of rules against fraud before we keep inflating the budget line for research. Research is a worthwhile investment but it should be efficient and not wasteful spending.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : midnight

Just another organization trying to take my tax dollars for the "public good". Research without tough management and definitive goals leads only to ....... more research and not the blockbuster drugs you crave.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 6:07 a.m.

Yeah, that whole goal is tough to figure out with a name like the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH. Of course if that isnt enough for you, like any organization, it all can be summed up in its mission statement. Which part of that mission do you disagree with?


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 2:28 a.m.

Do you have any idea of the successes that the NIH has funded thru its research support externally or what it alone has contributed to the US public good ? Or do you not believe addressing public health is a worthy national cause?


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

Kathleen, First off, I wish you well in your battle with Parkinson's disease. However, there is a fallacy in the logic that "I have X condition and therefore more research money needs to be spent generically." If $32 billion more is given to the NIH, there is absolutely zero guarantee any of it would be spent researching Parkinson's disease - so that fact becomes irrelevant. Have you considered how the NIH gives away the money and to whom? My biggest problem with the money given out is that there is very little accountability with regards to return on investment. Sure, some money needs to go to basic research that won't or can't be monetized (at least not in the near term). However, much of the money actually goes to companies. Those companies will create drugs (or devices) and then charge us an arm and a leg for that product which we gave the initial seed money towards. I think it's high time for "strings" to be attached to the money. If a product/drug/device is created from grant money then the NIH should get receive some recompense. If you think this is not right, then realize it is no different than the University would do or a bank or a venture capitalist firm would ask for. So, in the end, I agree. More money for research. Especially translational research. However, maybe those small percentage who actually create a monetary gain can give back to the system so that it can become self-sustaining.


Sun, Mar 18, 2012 : 1:39 a.m.

Johnny, when a government "gives" to people, it's giving $$$ taken from them in the first place, or borrowed from places like China - which will need to be paid back (see taking above). Massive increases in NIH grants are interesting, I know personally of one that studied hearing loss in factory workers. Study results? They should wear ear plugs.


Sat, Mar 17, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

When the government gives to people, the right wing calls it socialism, when they give to companies it is "investment". This is the very reason that single payer universal health coverage is needed. If a drug or treatment protocol is funded by NIH, a university, or any other public funds the money should go back to the government. Many treatments were discovered with federal dollars, yet a private for profit company gets to keep a patent on it. That is criminal.