Needed: a quantum leap  pg. 2

Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry
Photo by Joe Howell
“The budget of the NIH should not be an annual legislated amount of money,” argues Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs. Instead, it should have a “fixed adjusted-for-inflation increase over a 10-or-so-year period like many programs in government.”

If the National Cancer Institute, for example, “knew what its budget was going to be five years from now, imagine how effective and efficient they could be in planning programs,” he says.

Yo-yoing funding is not only a problem for NIH, it can be crushing to the individual investigator, and it ends up wasting tax dollars, adds Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., associate director for basic science programs at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

“The vast majority of researchers across the country have one or two grants, and when their grant doesn’t get renewed for two cycles the research stops, and then it gets funded and they have nobody in the lab to do it,” Hiebert says.

“It takes a couple of years to get going. And we’re doing this and it’s killing us. We’re wasting tax dollars doing this because we’re losing the momentum.”

Dan Masys, M.D., chair, Department of Biomedical Informatics
Photo by Joe Howell
“This thing of going up a lot and then going down a lot is just devastating to the continuity of laboratories (that) are trying to… make a breakthrough,” agrees Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Pharmacology. “You lose trained people in your laboratory. You start all over. It’s a wasteful system.”

Funding a program is not unlike flying a plane, adds Dan Masys, M.D., chair of Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt and a licensed pilot. Repeatedly climbing and descending instead of keeping to a steady altitude can increase fuel consumption by 60 percent while actually lengthening the time to reach a destination, Masys says.

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