Retroviruses, engineering and the future of science  pg. 3

There are advantages to confederacy. But the important thing is to recognize when appropriate that every institute at NIH has a stake in common technology development.

One example where I think the work is particularly important is the effort to develop centers for training and research in computational biology, where the issues of multidisciplinary investigation are already very alive. And if Elias is able to keep the team together, despite the fact that the NIH budget is not going to be rising in the years ahead the way it did over the last five years, this would be a big triumph because it’s very much needed.

Baltimore: I believe that what Dr. Zerhouni is saying is that research has reached a new level of sophistication that we haven’t seen before, and that at this level of sophistication, we have to be able to think more strategically than we have in the past. And I happen to think he’s right about that.

It involves us in doing things in new ways, and as such is a little scary. I think it’s good to be experimental. It’s a measure of the success of the biomedical enterprise that we can start thinking in new ways, and we should be excited by that kind of success, rather than saying, “All we need is more of the same.”

How is the Grand Challenges in Global Health, a $200 million initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, adding to the nation’s research enterprise?

Varmus (who chairs the initiative’s executive committee and scientific board):

I do believe that the NIH has a major responsibility to address diseases throughout the world, not just diseases that are prevalent in the U.S. (But) I certainly don’t believe that NIH should be funding all the research that gets done. There are lots of other outstanding sources of funding for research … and these other sources ought to be applauded and sustained.

The real appeal of the Grand Challenges comes from its unique aspects; that is, trying to focus on what we as a scientific board thought to be obstacles (to) making much more rapid progress in confronting diseases in developing countries. The initial request for ideas resulted in our receiving over 1,000 proposals from well over 70 countries. We won’t know for several years whether this really works, but every step so far has been very successful.

How well are we training the next generation of scientists?

Baltimore: We’re doing a good job in training; the problem is, we don’t have enough people. In particular, the number of engineers and physical scientists who are being trained is just simply too small.

What we’ve been doing is using immigrants in the place of training our own people, and that’s worked perfectly well. We have large numbers of immigrants coming in continually from countries where they are training people in engineering and science, and those people play a central role in the biomedical enterprise and the general research enterprise in the United States.

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