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NIH NUTRITION RESEARCH FUNDING TWO-FOLD INCREASE

This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet

Executive Summary

NIH NUTRITION RESEARCH FUNDING TWO-FOLD INCREASE over the next one-to-two years "would be my recommendation," National Institutes of Health Director Bernadine Healy, MD, told a May 12 press conference. In fiscal year 1992, NIH believes it spent approximately 5% more than FY 1991's $ 311 mil. allocation for nutrition research and training, which represents about 4% of the institutes' total budget. Final figures are not yet available for 1992. The press briefing was called as part of an NIH meeting to discuss implementation of the institutes' "bionutrition initiative" ("The Tan Sheet" May 3, p. 10). Characterizing nutrition research allocations at NIH as "puny," Healy stressed: "I think money is very much an issue for why NIH has not done more [nutrition] research." She suggested that a larger nutrition research budget is needed to "leverage" scientists into the field. "You're not going to get the expanding science base unless you attract the community of scientists who are at major research institutions, who want to spend their time on that work, and they're only going to do it if they think they can get their work funded," she maintained. "Look at how quickly 10% of the NIH community moved into AIDS research. They followed the money," Healy said. In FY 1991, the National Cancer Institute provided the most funding for nutritional research among the institutes, with expenditures of $ 74.8, according to NIH's 1991 annual report. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases led with percentage of total budget spent in support of nutrition initiatives at 11.4%, or $ 70.2 mil. Extramural research grants accounted for 96% ($ 298 mil.) nutrition research spending in FY 1991. The remaining $ 12.5 mil. of nutrition expenditures went to NIH's intramural program on research projects and training. At the press conference, Healy characterized NIH's "bionutrition initiative" as a program focusing on "the interactions between nutrients and living systems" that will "enrich nutritional science with modern molecular and genetic technologies." Nutrition is an area that requires "a heavy infusion of basic science," she added. The initiative arises out of a two-year planning effort in which the term "bionutrition" was coined to "add a new flavor to an old science," Healy commented. At the May 12 meeting, an ad hoc group of nutrition experts, scientists and clinicians convened to discuss the priorities, structure and agenda of a proposed NIH "bionutrition advisory council." The panel, which has not yet been formed, is intended to "pull nutrition sciences together" and coordinate NIH's research institutes and centers, Healy explained. A major concern of the ad hoc group was how to attract more scientists to nutrition research. Scott Grundy, MD/PhD, University of Texas, suggested that the challenge for the council will be to "get scientists interested in these questions"; nutrition is not a study area that they are interested in, according to Grundy. Acting as a chairperson and moderator of the group, NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination Director Darla Danford observed the bionutrition initiative "is all about creating an interest" in the field. The panel agreed that a stronger base in nutritional science is necessary before the council could be asked to make recommendations on nutrition. "There are dietary recommendations now that have been effective and have given us some glimpse of the potential power of this tool in altering life-long diet in the prevention of disease," Jules Hirsch, MD, Rockefeller University, said. However, he added, "We are just at the beginning of being able to [make recommendations]." The ad hoc group also discussed the issue of tailoring diets to an individual's genetic susceptibilities. Group member Paul Watkins, MD, University of Michigan, said: "What is obvious is that there is no such thing as an ideal diet," and noted that the council, when formed, should address research that sorts "out groups based on genetic susceptibilities . . . Maybe we can identify these susceptibilities at birth and make dietary decisions based on that." "The one area I think that needs reevaluation in nutrition is the whole vitamin area," Grundy suggested. "For many years that's been sort of on hold," but it "seems to me that the public [and the] scientific community is getting very interested in this area again." Noting that vitamin research "is such a broad field" that has "been neglected for a while," Grundy said he would "like to see research that is interested in that." The ad hoc group did not reach a consensus on how many members the bionutrition advisory council should have. NIH's Danford noted that the institutes' intention is to include various NIH officials as well as representatives from other federal agencies on the council. Asked about a timetable for selecting council members and outlining an agenda, Healy remarked: "Yesterday isn't too soon." Danford noted, however, that there is some uncertainty about when the advisory council will be formed due to a recent executive order that each federal department and agency terminate not less than one-third of advisory committees ("The Tan Sheet" April 5, In Brief).
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