Turning Scientific Discoveries into Health: NIH 101

Elizabeth Sierminski

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the “crown jewel of federal spending,” said Dr. Keith Yamamoto at a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Coalition for the Life Sciences and the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus on July 14 titled, NIH 101: An Introduction to the National Institutes of Health.

Yamamoto, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, San Francisco and Research!America board member, was the featured speaker at the event, sponsored by the Coalition for Life Sciences and the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. He discussed the mission and budget of the NIH, as well as the rigorous scientific review process that ensures the budget achieves the mission – turning scientific discoveries into health.

Yamamoto said the government must fund basic research because industry cannot. “We have to understand fundamental information to understand disease,” he said. Sixty percent of the NIH budget goes to basic research. These grant initiatives are investigator-initiated because, “tight constraints limit imagination.” Although imagination is encouraged, the NIH evaluates scientific proposals on two levels to ensure that they only fund relevant, cost-effective research of exceptional scientific merit.

According to Yamamoto, NIH-funded basic research has significant economic benefit. He noted that achieving a 60 percent decline in cardiovascular disease over the last 40 years cost each American the equivalent of one Starbucks drink per year. “Would you give up one Starbucks drink a year?” he asked. “Think what we could do with two.”

Yamamoto asked congressional staff in attendance to ensure that robust funding for the NIH continues and to work with NIH to reassess facilities and administrative (F&A) cost levels, rather than capping F&A at 10% as outlined in the Trump Administration’s FY18 budget proposal.  

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The capabilities are enormous, a little bit of research can pay off quite a bit in the long run.
Paul D’ Addario, retinitis pigmentosa patient