Bill Passed Establishing National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering On Wednesday this week, the House of Representatives voted to establish the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health. Action now shifts to the Senate, which is considering a similar bill sponsored by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS).
Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC) is in the author of this bill, H.R. 1795, which was introduced in May of last year. It was cosponsored by 170 of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Under this legislation, a new institute would be established at NIH whose purpose, according to the bill, "is the conduct and support of research, training, the dissemination of health information, and other programs with respect to biomedical imaging, biomedical engineering, and associated technologies and modalities with biomedical applications . . . . " One of the activities under this program would be "related research in physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and other disciplines."
Establishment of a new institute is supported by 40 professional societies. One of these is the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics.
In describing his legislation on the House floor, Burr stated, "in an age where we talk about producing more resources for the National Institutes of Health to do additional research, it is incumbent on ths institution to create a structure that makes sure that we are chasing the best and the brightest. When we talk about the issue of biomedical imaging, we need to look at ways to detect at an earlier stage breast cancer and many other terminal and chronic illnesses . . . . H.R. 1795 creates a research environment in which new imaging and biotechnologies, techniques, and devices can be developed for clinical use much more rapidly than under the present system." He added, "our effort here is to not create a new bureaucracy but it is to put somebody in charge of this new exciting field that is driven by technology to make sure that every patient in America has early detection as a tool against disease . . . ."
Joining Burr in his remarks was Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). She discussed budget numbers, stating, "the proposed institute has been structured to control administrative costs and mitigate against administrative growth. Indeed, the numbers are sobering. Based on fiscal year 1998 figures, the biomedical imaging program at the National Cancer Institute administered a grant portfolio of nearly $60 million and 220 grants. Given a generous ratio staff-to-grant, the newly proposed institute should easily maintain itself with the 62 full-time employees already working in this discipline through the NIH institutes and centers. It would draw most heavily from currently funded positions at the National Cancer Institute and have a responsibility for [the] collection of 932 grants totaling $201.5 million."
Also speaking was Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), who Burr recognized as a major supporter of the bill. Eshoo commented that "Establishment of a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering will reduce duplication, it will lay the foundation for a new medical information age, and it will provide a structure to train young researchers who will make the breakthrough discoveries for the rest of this very new and promising century."
The only Member who expressed opposition to the bill was Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI). In written remarks, Dingell described "my long-standing concern about the administrative burdens and duplication that come with authorizing new Institutes at the National Institutes of Health." While he said the proposed institute had a "laudable goal," he added, "NIH's budget is finite, and we must be careful to use it wisely." He submitted a letter from Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala who stated, "we have concluded that the newly created Office of Bioengineering, Bioimaging, and Bioinformatics in the Office of the Director, NIH, ensures the most effective and efficient deployment of resources to foster research in this area."
The companion bill in the Senate is S. 1110. In addition to Majority Leader Lott, it is cosponsored by Spencer Abraham (R- MI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jesse Helms (R- NC), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Ashcroft (R-MO), Thad Cochran (R- MS), Michael DeWine (R-OH), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
Richard M. Jones