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How Biomedical Research Benefits Society and the Impact of the Ryan Budget

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By: Jennifer Plank

Credit: Jennifer Plank

Credit: Jennifer Plank

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the largest medical research agency in the United States. Historically, funding for the NIH has received bipartisan support, which was clearly illustrated by the efforts of the 105th Congress in 1997. Senate Republicans proposed that the NIH budget be doubled by the year 2003. This initiative received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, resulting in a budget increase from $15.6 billion to $27.2 billion1. Additionally, a bipartisan letter authored by House members Susan Davis (D-CA), David McKinley (R-WV), Andre Carson (D-IN), and Peter King (R-NY) requesting $32 billion (representing an inflation adjustment and a 1% increase) for the NIH in FY2015 was signed by 24 Republican and many Democrat Representatives. However, bipartisan support does not always translate to actual budget appropriations. For the decade following “the doubling,” the NIH budget remained relatively flat, and when adjusted for inflation, the spending power of the NIH has dramatically decreased2. Unfortunately, 22 of the 24 Republicans, including Peter King, co-author of the letter requesting an NIH budget increase, voted for Representative Paul Ryan’s budget, which would cut the NIH budget by 1/3 by FY20243.

NIH-funded research is responsible for several notable achievements in medicine. Over the past century, average life expectancy has increased by 47 years, largely due to the efforts of NIH-funded research. The increased life expectancy necessitates additional research to combat diseases associated with aging such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Additionally, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of individuals above the age of 65 who have disabilities. The NIH has funded 144 Nobel Laureates who have made many medical advances including development of the MRI, identifying the link between viruses and cancer, and developing methodologies to control cholesterol levels4. These notable achievements merely scratch the surface of the medical advances achieved through NIH funding.

In addition to improvements in medicine, the NIH provides a significant economical benefit. Over 80% of the NIH budget is devoted to the “extramural program”; that is, the program that funds biomedical research at universities and research institutions around the country. In fact, the NIH funds research at over 2,500 institutions4. Each NIH grant is responsible for approximately seven jobs, and each dollar invested in the NIH creates nearly $2 of economic output5. The NIH’s “intramural program” employs over 6,000 researchers and houses the NIH Clinical Center, which is the largest experimental hospital in the country4. Reducing the NIH budget will weaken areas essential for a thriving economy.

The budget proposed by Representative Ryan, coined “The Path to Prosperity”, has the potential to halt advances in biomedicine and cause the United States to lag far behind other countries in terms of medicine and technical innovation. In fact, despite facing economic challenges, the European Union has recently made its greatest investment in R&D6, setting the stage for the US to fall behind without further investment to the NIH. The Ryan Budget would cut $5 trillion of expected spending largely through the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare reform7. The budget would also cut discretionary funding, resulting in a 1/3 decrease in the NIH’s budget over the next decade3.

Implementation of the Ryan Budget will catastrophically affect research, innovation, and education. We cannot afford such a cut to the NIH budget at a time when the United States is losing its international status as a leader in science and technology. If you want to get involved, write to your Congressmen and Congresswomen to express your displeasure at the passage of this budget.


  1. “OLPA – Legislative Updates – Doubling the NIH Budget in the 107th Congress.” OLPA – Legislative Updates – Doubling the NIH Budget in the 107th Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
  2. “” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
  3. Kotadia, Shaila. “ASBMB Policy Blotter.” ASBMB Policy Blotter. N.p., 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
  4. “NIH – About NIH.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.
  5. “2012 Congressional Meeting Talking Points” American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. 10 Apr. 2014.
  6. “EU Research Funding for next 7 Years Announced – Horizon 2020.” EU Research Funding for next 7 Years Announced – Horizon 2020. European Commission, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2014.
  7. Kane, Paul. “House Approves Ryan Plan to Cut Budget $5 Trillion.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.



Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 11, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Essays

Tagged with , ,

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