Today’s New York Times, in the Sunday opinion section, there was an editorial about the economic problems facing academic research institutions and their young researchers. The problems they are facing is a direct result of the flat budget that The National Institute of Health (NIH) has been given over the last five years.

The rate of medical inflation far outstrips the general rate of inflation. According to the Times when you adjust for the real cost of equipment, supplies and personnel the NIH has actually lost 13% of its purchasing power.

The NIH budget is the single largest contributor of funds for medical research in the United States. With what amounts to cutbacks in real funding dollars, the NIH can now fund one in four grant proposals as opposed to one in three which was its funding pattern between 1998 and 2003.

The results of these cutbacks has been devastating, especially to younger researchers. (I have written about this issue before, especially with my posts about the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Funding Program). The average age for obtaining a first funded grant from the NIH has now risen to 43 years old, but the Times points out the best work from these researchers is historically done at much younger ages.

When I participated, as a community member, at the last DOD funding evaluation program I learned that many young researchers have actually left the field or moved to Europe where they are able obtain funding. Many of the senior researchers with whom I worked expressed serious concern that we are creating a lost generation of researchers. When and if funding levels are increased, we will not have the competent and trained researchers ready to go.

As the Times said, “Congress needs to provide the NIH with enough money to keep up with biomedical inflation and preferably somewhat more. Then the government and research institutions need to do a better with what they get.”

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW

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