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Senate Launches NIH Caucus, Vision Research Cited

Legislative Update
May 20, 2015

Left to right: NIH Caucus Co-Chairs Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Left to right: NIH Caucus Co-Chairs Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
On May 19 in the United States Capitol, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced a new bipartisan Senate National Institutes of Health (NIH) Caucus as NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. looked on. Commenting on the purpose of the Caucus, Senator Durbin said, “We know the intent is there to support the NIH, and we have to find a way to pay for it. We all need to tell a story-Dr. Collins regarding the benefits of NIH research, and the Caucus to tell the political story to ensure funding.” Senator Graham added that the Caucus will “shine a light on the fact that the NIH is a good investment. For its percent of the federal budget, NIH’s return on investment is incredible. It is a great success story, especially in how it brings together the government, academic institutions and industry to collaborate.” He also emphasized that sequestration “is a dumb idea when it is applied to such federal programs as the NIH.”

Senators Durbin and Graham were joined by fellow Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee member Jerry Moran (R-KS), who commented that the Caucus “needs to get beyond symbolic support to allow Dr. Collins and his colleagues to do their valuable work.” He expressed concern about young investigators and their ability to commit to a career in biomedical research. Dr. Collins picked up on that comment noting that, at this time, a young scientist’s chance of getting an NIH grant is the lowest in its history—a fact that he discussed in detail at the March 3 hearing of the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee. He acknowledged that the creation of the Caucus “sends ripples of encouragement” to the biomedical research community.

Dr. Collins was joined by three Institute Directors: Tom Insel, M.D. (National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH), Nora Volkov, M.D. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA), and Chris Austin, M.D. (National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NCATS). In describing the potential of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, he described research to re-program nerve cells in mice to become light sensitive, potentially paving the way for an artificial retina.

At its launch, Caucus membership in addition to Senators Durbin, Graham, and Moran includes:

  • Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Senator Robert Casey (D-PA)
  • Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Senator Al Franken (D-MN)
  • Senator Angus King (I-ME)
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)
  • Senator Gary Peters (D-MI)
  • Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS)

NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. with NIH Caucus member Jerry Moran (R-KS)
NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. with NIH Caucus member Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Accompanying Dr. Collins were NIH Directors as follows: Tom Insel, M.D. (NIMH), Nora Volkow, M.D. (NIDA), and Chris Austin, M.D. (NCATS)
Accompanying Dr. Collins were NIH Directors as follows: Tom Insel, M.D. (NIMH), Nora Volkow, M.D. (NIDA), and Chris Austin, M.D. (NCATS)