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You can't always get what you want.

But, as the song says, if you try, sometimes you just might find you get what you need. That seems to be the message of an Institute of Medicine report on allocating resources for biomedical research released in late September. Funding Health Sciences Research-A Strategy to Restore Balance, the product of a committee specially convened by IOM president Samuel Thier two years ago to offer "a broad yet fiscally responsible analysis of the issues affecting life

sciences research," generated immediate controversy with its recommendation that the National Institutes of Health direct more funding toward training the next generation of scientists-if necessary, by redistributing funds away from individual research grants ("National Panel Urges Shifting Funding ...... The Scientist, 29 October 1990, pp. 3, 12-13). What has many bench scientists worried is the fact that the report does not call for an overall increase in NIH funding.

Funding Health Sciences Research recommends that the NIH budget be restructured to increase the proportion allocated for training (which stood at about 17 percent 30 years ago) from the current 4.2 percent to 5.75 percent over the next five years, and to increase the amount spent on facilities from 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent over the same period. Unless additional funding is allocated to NIH, the approximately $12 million called for in increased spending on training new researchers would have to come from monies now directed to extramural research grants. Extra monies to improve physical facilities and equipment would also have to come from extramural grants.

When only one out of four proposals currently receive funding, many feel that training future researchers ought not to be an NIH priority. Dan Lane, president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biochemistry, noted that "there are a lot of young scientists who aren't getting funding. And if that situation continues, it won't matter what else happens down the road" ("National Panel," p. 12).

The IOM, clearly, disagrees. Among the committee's suggestions for improving the long-term health of the research community are development of new undergraduate programs to attract prospective scientists (including outreach programs to attract women and minorities) and new predoctorate training programs, and more stringent evaluation of first-time applications to NIH by young researchers.

The committee also offered recommendations on how to make more funding available to more researchers through individual grants, one of the most controversial of which is its suggestion that NIH extramural grants be made on a sliding scale. Under such a scheme, more highly rated proposals would receive the full level of funding requested, while lower ranking applications would receive proportionately less of what investigators asked for.

Recommending an overall increase in NIH's budget, of course, would have been one way to meet the needs of current researchers, train the next generation of scientists, and help assure adequate research facilities, but the IOM committee was charged with the more difficult task of evaluating how best to serve the long-term interests not only of bench scientists, but equally of the research community and the broader society. Noting that there will always be opportunity to spend more money, Thier said, "I think the case for more should be made on the grounds that biomedical research is a positive good, not because it's tough to run the current system" ("National Panel," p. 3).
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Title Annotation:biomedical research allocations: recommendations from the Institute of Medicine
Author:Crigger, Bette-Jane
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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