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Obama prepares NIH 2012 budget

Julie Manoharan

The US president emphasized science investment in his State of the Union address last month, but will his 2012 budget request increase science funding?

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On Monday, Feb. 14, 2010, US President Barack Obama will submit his 2012 budget—which will include a funding request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—to Congress. Scientists who depend on federal funding of their research projects and laboratories are hoping for some good news.

And they have a good reason to be hopeful. Last month, President Obama emphasized a need for increased investment in science and innovation in his second State of the Union address.

“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race,” said President Obama in the address. “We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology.”

Researchers across country are hoping for good news when President Obama proposes his 2012 budget on Monday.

For nonprofit medical research advocacy group Research America, the address is promising. ”It really positions science as an American value in a way that’s been true ever since the nation was founded by the men of the enlightenment,” said the group’s president, Mary Woolley.

But in a time when money is short and political debate often leads to gridlock in a divided Congress, the president will likely meet some resistance to increasing budgets for science agencies.

Woolley is hopeful that President Obama will make good on the pledges he made during the State of the Union. “If his budget reflects his message, there will be increases for science and science agencies,” she said.

Even if President Obama’s proposed budget includes increased funding for environmental programs, research, technology, education, and transportation research, these increases will have to get past Congress. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will likely seek to cut any nonsecurity discretionary spending in the 2012 budget.

In his 2011 budget request, President Obama allocated $32.9 billion for the NIH, a $1 billion increase from the NIH’s $31.9 billion allocated in 2010. Congress is still debating the 2011 budget. Last week, the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee announced legislation that would cut $58 billion from President Obama’s request for non-security discretionary spending.

Government money would especially benefit researchers who focus on basic science, research that advances scientific knowledge even though it may not provide immediate applications or benefits. These researchers rarely receive private support and rely on public funding to carry out their work.

Woolley believes that federal investment in research will hasten progress toward personalized medicine as well. Using data and technology generated from the federally funded Human Genome Project, patients with common conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol could be treated with personalized therapeutics based on their genetic profile. “We can get away from a one-size-fits-all style of medicine,” said Woolley.