Now that President Donald Trump has abandoned plans to cut funds for the National Institutes of Health and signed off on Congress’ $2 billion increase to the agency’s budget, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is looking to steer more of those dollars to Kansas.
Moran, a Republican, met with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease researchers Friday at the University of Kansas Medical Center to find out what they’re working on and game-plan ways to pull down more federal funds for it.
He said he’d like to bring some of them to the NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Md., and get them in front of officials there.
“We need to figure out what programs, what research, what institute would be most beneficial to the university in making those connections,” Moran said.
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In addition to Alzheimer’s and cancer, KU officials at the meeting also floated the medical center’s research on kidney disease as a possibility.
KU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center is one of 31 facilities nationwide that are designated national Alzheimer’s centers by the National Institute on Aging and is already slated to receive at least $9 million in NIH grants through 2021. The KU Cancer Center has earned a similar designation from the National Cancer Institute, which also draws federal funding.
Roy Jensen, the director of the KU Cancer Center, said a trip to Bethesda would be possible, but he wanted to wait for more information from the National Cancer Advisory Board, which reviews NCI and NIH research grants.
“I think it’s a matter of timing,” Jensen said.
Richard Barohn, the chairman of the medical center’s neurology department, said the university is already pulling down an average of about $60 million a year in NIH funding and expects to top that in the current fiscal year, which ends July 1.
Jeff Burns, a neurology professor who started the medical center’s Alzheimer’s disease clinical research program in 2004, said some of that money has gone to creating the considerable infrastructure necessary to move from animal trials to human trials.
“We’ve gotten to the point now that we have that,” Burns said.
Burns’ research program focuses on using lifestyle changes in areas like diet and exercise to stave off Alzheimer’s. It has expanded since the National Institute on Aging designation came in 2011, and Burns said there’s “eight or nine” open positions right now.
Jill Morris, an Alzheimer’s researcher from Concordia, Mo., received NIH fellowships before and after she got her Ph.D. in 2011. She said the availability of NIH funds gave her confidence to stick with public-sector research rather than exploring other jobs.
“Steady NIH funding is really good not just for science but for the morale of young researchers,” Morris said.