BRAIN Initiative Top of Mind at Senate Appropriations Hearing

Yesterday, PAN attended a Senate subcommittee hearing on the 2014 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, testified in front of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee and was joined by five Institute Directors, including Dr. Story Landis, Director of the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Dr. Collins’ testimony highlighted some of the NIH’s recent successes, including research using induced pluripotent stem cells, and also the critical funding situation the NIH is facing as a result of flat-funding and sequestration.  Dr. Collins expressed concern that the NIH is not funding innovative research that may lead to the next breakthrough treatment for diseases like Parkinson’s, he also expressed concern that cuts are disincentivizing our nation’s brightest minds from going into biomedical research.  During opening statements and questions, members of the Subcommittee shared Dr. Collins’ hope for the future promise of NIH-funded science, as well as his concerns.

The recently announced Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was a large focus of the hearing.  Dr. Collins gave a general outline during his testimony, and during questioning, Dr. Story Landis was able to answer the Subcommittee’s specific questions on the goals and timeline for the Initiative.  When asked about the promise of the Initiative for new treatments for brain disorders (which Dr. Collins noted is the number one cause of disability in the U.S.), Dr. Landis gave the example of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for the treatment of some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  If we are better able to map how the brain’s circuits work, Dr. Landis noted, we would have a better grasp on the best placement for electrodes in the brain.  PAN is supportive of the BRAIN Initiative and the promises it could hold for many brain disorders and is looking forward to the Advisory Committee’s detailed plan, due to be released by the summer of 2014.

One of PAN’s more recent policy priorities is telemedicine, which also came up during the hearing.  Senator Moran (R-KS), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, asked the panel what can be done in rural states like Kansas to increase participation in clinical trials.  Dr. Landis informed Senator Moran that NINDS’ NeuroNEXT program is looking at telemedicine as a way to increase participation and retention in clinical trials.  With fewer than 10% of people with Parkinson’s participating in clinical trials, PAN is excited to see telemedicine being explored as an option for increasing participation.

Members of the Subcommittee voiced their support of the NIH throughout the hearing.  However, increased funding for the NIH faces an uphill battle given the current fiscal environment.  It is essential that Congress continues to hear from the Parkinson’s community that funding for the NIH should be a priority.  Please continue to take action!

To watch the video of the hearing, click here.


Date originally posted: May 16, 2013.