By Sharmina Manandhar
BETHESDA – President Obama announced Thursday that the National Institutes of Health is halfway through awarding its portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 fund, calling the grants the “single largest boost to biomedical research in history.”
“We’ve awarded $5 billion, that’s with a ‘b,’ in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatments to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world,” Obama said in an NIH auditorium filled with employees as well as federal and local legislators.
The Recovery Act, signed by the president in February, provides $10.4 billion to NIH out of the $787 billion economic stimulus package. The $5 billion in grants awarded so far will aid in cancer, heart disease and autism research among others, according to Obama.
“One of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment will be in applying what scientists have learned through the Human Genome Project to help us understand, prevent, and treat various forms of cancer, heart disease and autism,” Obama said.
The president also continued his push for comprehensive health care reform saying “decades of research make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick.”
“Now, I should point out there are some who have opposed the reforms we’re suggesting, saying it would lead to a takeover by the government of the health care sector,” Obama said.
The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday rejected two attempts to include the government-run public health insurance option in Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus’ health care bill. The public option would allow individuals who cannot afford health insurance to buy coverage from government.
Obama also touted his administration’s commitment to economic growth and the role of an efficient health care system in achieving that aim.
“From the beginning, our goal has been to rescue the economy at the same time as we’re laying a new foundation for lasting economic growth,” Obama said. “And central to that foundation is a health care system that can deliver the treatments and cures you discover in an affordable way.”
Obama, who toured an NIH laboratory before the event, said that it was “entirely inspiring” to listen to the progress in HIV/AIDS vaccine and cancer treatments.
Also present at the event were Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington; Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.; and NIH Director Francis S. Collins.
NIH awarded more than 12,000 grants by September, including more than 1,800 first-time, major, NIH grant recipients, according to Collins.
“These grants will fund trailblazing research in treating and preventing many of our most scary diseases, from cancer to heart disease to HIV/AIDS,” Collins said.
Van Hollen later described the grants as an investment that will put people to work on “productive pursuits.”
“Fruits of their research,” said Van Hollen, “will help all Americans and people around the world.”