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Release: May 7, 1999

UI's Hendrix testifies before U.S. Senate subcommittee

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) leadership, with consultation from Congress and the public, should set biomedical research priorities, a University of Iowa researcher told a U.S. Senate subcommittee May 6.

Mary J.C. Hendrix, Ph.D., UI professor and head of anatomy and cell biology, and deputy director of the Iowa Cancer Center, was in Washington, D.C. testifying during a hearing by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. Hendrix was representing the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a coalition of 17 societies with a combined membership of more than 57,000 scientists who work in biomedical research. Hendrix wanted to explain FASEB's position on how biomedical research funding decisions should be made. Hendrix is FASEB's president-elect. She will officially assume her duties as president-elect July 1. She will become the organization's president July 1, 2000.

FASEB was founded in 1912 to represent the views of scientists in the research policy debates. This remains one of the organization's main goals and the one for which Hendrix gave her testimony.

The NIH -- the nation's principle organization for biomedical research -- receives millions of dollars from the U.S. government annually. Although Congress designates how much each of the NIH's institutes receives, it is left up to the institutes to decide which programs, diseases and activities receive funding and how much. Various patient advocacy groups have expressed concern over this system, believing they and the U.S. Congress should have more say in the funding priorities.

"As the subcommittee reviews this important question, FASEB's recommendation is that Congress maintain the existing balance of responsibility in which Congress sets overall funding levels broken down by institute, but the selection of specific research areas to be funded remain principally the responsibility of the NIH," Hendrix told the gathered senators.

Hendrix stressed that while the NIH should make the allocation decisions, it should do so with structured public and patient input, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

Hendrix said she was honored to represent FASEB at Thursday's discussion and hopes that the senators will consider FASEB's position when deciding whether to change the funding distribution structure.