Date: July 1st, 2009
Investigators supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are on the cusp of research breakthroughs that may enhance their ability to predict and intervene earlier in the processes of many age-related chronic diseases.
These discoveries will not only positively impact the health of countless people, but they also have the potential to reduce the long-term health costs that are expected to grow as a result of our aging society. Unfortunately, the current state of federal support for the NIH could severely limit investigators’ ability to realize the potential that many fields of science hold for improving the quality of life of older Americans.
The Current Outlook for America and for NIH
Chronic diseases associated with aging afflict close to 80% of the 65 and older population in the U.S., and account for the majority of federal health care spending in this country. By 2025, it’s predicted that U.S. health care spending will reach 25% of our gross domestic product (GDP). This leaves the current administration dealing with the dual pressures of expanding access to health insurance for everyone, while at the same time reducing the nation’s spending on health care. All those who have a stake in health care reform agree that tough choices will have to be made to accomplish these goals.
Despite the enormous impact it can have, the NIH’s budget has left much to be desired over the past several years. Funding for the agency has been flat and overall spending on medical research has declined by as much as 17%. As part of his economic recovery package introduced during his first days in office, President Obama addressed this issue by dedicating a substantial amount of short-term funding to NIH. While this money will be spent immediately to create jobs and expand research capacity, it is only a temporary measure that must be bolstered by sustained funding in 2010 and beyond.
The NIH accounts for over 80% of all the non-profit medical research in the U.S. and is widely regarded for the contributions it makes to improve the health and well-being of all Americans. Incremental increases in targeted funding would continue to create jobs, stimulate ground-breaking research, and ensure that the United States continues to be a leader in medical research.
The Promise of NIH-Sponsored Research
Recent breakthroughs in NIH research demonstrate the potential of science to meet the growing challenges posed by our aging nation. In 2008, NIH-funded scientists achieved advances in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of some of the most dreaded diseases including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Trials are showing early success in the use of infrared lights to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in patients. Early detection of Alzheimer’s is essential to developing an effective treatment plan and slowing the progression of the disease.
- Cardiovascular Disease: The largest clinical trial every designed to study the effects of high blood pressure drug treatments revealed that low cost diuretics are as effective as much more expensive drugs in lowering blood pressure and preventing complications.
- Diabetes: New research has aided drug development by validating the A1c hemoglobin marker. This has led to improved insulin and glucose monitors, identified susceptibility genes, and made significant progress in understanding the biology of diabetes.
- Vision Loss: Recent studies in animal models with glaucoma have found the mechanism behind cell death in specific cells that support the optic nerve—leading to blindness.
Increasing the NIH Budget
The Alliance for Aging Research recently released the 2009 Task Force Report on Aging Research Funding. The report, endorsed by 65 research and patient advocacy organizations, calls for a steady increase in NIH funding. It was sent to members of Congress and their legislative staff in order to help inform budgetary decision-making. To read the report and learn about some of the research going on for many age-related diseases visit the Alliance on-line.
The Task Force recognizes that policymakers must be continually reminded that investments in science are necessary for our society to thrive. The research that NIH supports today will be the basis for future advances in science and improvements to our health. Now is the time to reach out to your member of Congress and Senators and let them know that you believe a financially-healthy NIH is critical to the nation and to the health of its people.