Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Congress Reviews the Budgets for NIH, VA Medical and Prosthetics Research Program

During the latest hearing held in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, several topics of interest were discussed. Chair Patty Murray (R-WA) said that she had worked hard to provide funding to establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) in the bipartisan fiscal year 2022 omnibus funding bill earlier this year and wanted to see ARPA-H complement the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This new agency must still operate independently, but in a cooperative manner with NIH while nimbly accelerating breakthroughs. NIH was also called to account for the $17 billion Congress provided to find a cure for Alzheimer’s over the last decade. 

NIH officials were also asked if they thought the lockdowns during the height of COVID should happen again, considering the detrimental impact the lockdowns had on the economy and people’s health especially that of children. Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made a distinction of actions taken during COVID pre-vaccine and post-vaccine. He said children should currently be in school but vaccinated, as should those around them. 

Meanwhile, at another hearing with Rachel Ramoni, DMD, ScD, Chief Research and Development Officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), she shared her insights on the various research efforts that the VA was pursuing. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, praised the improved prosthetics and spinal cord research helping veterans recover. She and other bipartisan members of the subcommittee have made the VA Medical and Prosthetics Research Program a top priority for veterans who are not only living longer, but also recovering from injuries that were fatal in the past.

Ramoni made the point that VA researchers published the groundbreaking work alerting veterans and the nation to the potential scope and dimensions of long COVID. She also emphasized that female veterans are now receiving more support due to Congressional encouragement. Those who have lost limbs are not simply provided a miniaturized version of a prosthetic that would work for men, but now can have a prosthetic foot that can be adapted to different heel heights and new 3D-printed fingers that are more suitable for women. 

In addressing the problem of the underrepresentation of women in biomedical research, Ramoni said there has been tailored communication to let women know that they are welcome in biomedical research. As a result, there are now more women enrolled in the Million Veteran Program than men. This program looks at how genes, lifestyle, and military exposures affect health and illness. 

In response to a question related to the VA research budget increasing $300 million or 52 percent over the last decade with a potential increase that would grow the budget to 57 percent, Ramoni described how the increase would be used, including, for example, possible expansion in areas such as brain health and precision oncology, as well as enlarging the research enterprise footprint to increase the substantial real-world impact of VA research. 

To learn more about how the work of VA researchers is impacting antimicrobial resistance and health equity and improving the ability of paralyzed veterans to communicate, please see the May 20th research symposium of the VA Office of Research and Development.