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Research Project Grants

Question. Dr. Kirschstein, your 1991 budget request provides for 3200 research project grants. How does this compare with the number of grants supported in recent years?

Answer. The NIGMS supported 3,261 research project grants in FY 1989, and will support about 3,196 such grants in FY 1990. Support has, therefore, been fairly level over the past few years.

Question. What percentage of your approved applications for new and competing renewal awards will you be able to fund? And, how does this compare with recent years?

Answer. The NIGMS will be able to fund an estimated 26 percent of approved research grant applications in FY 1991. This compares to 23 percent in FY 1990; 29 percent in FY 1989; and 40 percent in FY 1988.

QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BY SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER

Efforts to Attract Minorities into Research Careers

Question. Dr. Kirschstein, in light of the historically low participation of minorities in the field of bio-medical research and future pro ections that, by the year 2000, one-third of the persons entering the American work-force will be minorities, what steps has the Institute taken to attract minorities to the field of biomedical research?

Answer. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences administers two programs that are specifically designed to attract minority students into biomedical research careers. The first of these, the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Program, provides support for research training activities to schools with high levels of minority enrollment, under the authority of the National Research Service Act (NRSA). Roughly 80 percent of the MARC Program budget is allocated to an Honors Undergraduate Research Training program, which has the goal of increasing the number of minority college students gaining admittance to outstanding Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences.

The second program, newly transferred to the Institute in October 1989, is the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program. This program provides support for student and faculty research activities at colleges and universities that enroll large numbers of underrepresented minorities in science programs.

Question. How many minority trainees do you anticipate supporting in FY '91? How does this compare to FY '89 and FY'90?

Answer. The President's budget request for FY 1991 provides approximately $13.4 million for the MARC Program, a 25 percent increase over FY 1990. This will allow the support of 711 MARC trainees in FY 1991, compared to 575 trainees in FY 1990, and 479 trainees in FY 1989.

The MBRS Program's budget for FY 1991 is $32.3 million, an 8.4 percent increase over FY 1990. Beyond this, however, as in past years, roughly $11 million in cofunding support is expected from other NIH and Departmental components.

These funds will support research positions for an estimated 1,101 undergraduate and 448 graduate students, as well as research projects for about 750 faculty members.

These are the same numbers of research positions and research projects supported in both FY 1989 and FY 1990. The increased funding provided in FY 1991 will be used to pay the costs of increased student salary levels.

Question. Is the Institute able to report to the Committee progress in attracting young minority investigators?

Answer. The MARC and MBRS programs have established excellent records of success, both in attracting minority students into biomedical research career tracks and in developing the research capabilities of minority institutions. A 1984 survey found that 76 percent of former MARC Honors Undergraduate students enrolled in graduate or pro-fessional school programs after college. Similarly, a 1987 analysis found that 254 former MBRS students had earned the Ph.D. degree (163 in the life sciences, 65 in engineering or mathematics, and 26 in other areas).

The success of these two programs was highlighted in a 1988 report issued by the U.S. Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and Technology, which stated the following,

"Of Federal programs established to give minorities and
women access to science and engineering, we found the
Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) of the National
Institutes of Health closest to what we need today. MARC
is a prime example of a successful Federal intervention
program... The NIH's Minority Biomedical Research Support
(MBRS) program is also effective in enhancing the research
careers of faculty."

Despite the success of these two programs, it is still true that less than 2 percent of the Ph.D.s in the biological sciences are being earned by minorities.

Predoctoral Research Training

Question. Dr. Kirschstein, I understand the National Academy of Sciences recently released a report which concluded that funding for 4,300 trainees in basic molecular science per year was necessary to ensure an adequately trained pool of biomedical researchers in the future.

Do you agree with the recommendation of the Academy?

Answer. The report to which you refer was just released by the Committee on Biomedical and Behavioral Research Personnel, a component of the Academy's Institute of Medicine.

Based on demographic data that indicate "a projected undersupply of biomedical Ph.D. scientists into the next century," the Committee recommended that the Public Health Service (PHS) provide support for 4,300 predoctoral trainees (as measured in terms of Full Time Equivalents or FTEs) in the biomedical sciences by 1990. The Committee went on to recommend a gradual increase in support for predoctoral trainees to a level of 5,200 FTE trainees by the year 1993.

I have read the Academy report and found it convincing. Therefore, I agree with the recommendation that support for predoctoral training should be increased, if funds become available.

Question. How does the FY '91 budget compare to the 4,300 trainees recommended by the report?

Answer. The Academy recommended that the PHS support 4,300 predoctoral FTE trainees in FY 1990 and 4,600 FTE trainees in FY 1991. For NIGMS, which has traditionally funded about 60 percent of the PHS total of predoctoral trainees, the Academy's recommendations translate into approximately 2,967 students (2,580 FTEs) in FY 1990, and 3,174 students (2,760 FTES) in FY 1991.

By comparison, the Institute's FY 1991 budget request provides for 2,065 predoctoral students (1,795 FTEs) in the biomedical science categories referred to by the Academy. This is 902 students (784 FTEs) short of the Academy's recommendation for FY 1990, and 1,109 students (964 FTEs) short of the Academy's recommendation for FY 1991.

Question. tion in FY '91?

How much would it cost to implement the recommenda

Answer. The average cost of training a predoctoral student is $19,200/year. For NIGMS programs, it would therefore cost an additional $17.3 million over the amount provided in the President's FY 1991 budget request to support the number of trainees recommended by the Academy for FY 1990, and an additional $21.3 million to reach the Academy's recommended level for FY 1991.

NATIONAL EYE INSTITUTE

STATEMENT OF DR. CARL KUPFER, DIRECTOR

SUMMARY STATEMENT

Senator HARKIN. We next go to the National Eye Institute, Dr. Kupfer. We welcome you this afternoon. Your Institute stands out as having the highest award rate for research project grants.

The overall NIH average for 1989 was 29.7 percent, as we discussed earlier in the day, and your Institute was able to fund 46.8 percent of the approved applications.

Your request next year is for $247.39 million, for a 4.59 increase. Welcome and please proceed.

Dr. KUPFER. Thank you, sir. I would like to make some brief comments about the activities in vision research during the last year. We continued to provide new information that increases knowledge in several very broad fields: in the cause of cancer; in regeneration in the central nervous system, and this is particularly appropriate inasmuch as we are entering the “Decade of the Brain"; and in reducing the complications of diabetes.

With respect to the cause of cancer, investigators supported by the National Eye Institute have recently identified and isolated the gene that causes a type of eye tumor called retinoblastoma, and the exciting thing about this gene is that the tumor will only develop if the gene is absent from the tissue.

It has now been found that this gene, the retinoblastoma gene or RB gene, actually produces a protein that suppresses tumor growth. There have been recent experiments to demonstrate that one can introduce this RB gene back into tumor cells and convert them into normally growing cells.

Finally, it has also been found that this retinoblastoma gene does play a role in other cancers, including breast carcinoma, small cell lung carcinoma, and osteosarcoma of the bone. This has some very important implications. So, we are going to see some very major changes in the approach to cancer biology as a result of these studies.

The second area has to do with transplantation of tissue in the brain or central nervous system. The tissue I am referring to is the retina of the eye, which is in fact part of the central nervous system.

It has now been shown that one can use a strain of rats that ordinarily undergo a degeneration of the retina and by introducing normal cells from another strain of rats, prevent the retinal degeneration. In fact, there can actually be regeneration of the cells that hitherto have been destroyed.

This is a major step forward in the whole area not only of regeneration in the central nervous system, but also of the maintenance

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