The U.S. Congress recently passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which earmarked about $1.8 billion over the next 10 years for Cancer Moonshots to find new cures for cancer.
Another $1.5 billion was earmarked for the Brain Initiative to develop better ways to treat neurologic problems. The Precision Medicine Initiative received about $1.5 billion to optimize treatments for patients based on their own genetics and other individual factors.
Almost lost in this national commitment was that funding for grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also increased. These grants fund projects to better understand the causes of diseases and design new treatments.
When I began my career in medicine and biomedical sciences research, NIH applications that scored in the top 25 percent were typically funded. This year, the top 15 percent of such grants receive funding from the National Heart Lung and Blood institute of the NIH and the pay line at other NIH institutes is even lower.
The competition is stiff, and that hasn’t changed over the years. To get funding from the NIH, UT Health Northeast investigators routinely compete with the best of the best scientists in this country - from Harvard, Yale, Hopkins, UT Southwestern and Stanford.
The UT Health Northeast Research Enterprise is small but highly competitive. Over the past 10 years, UT Health Northeast investigators have successfully landed NIH grants and generated about $130 million of research expenditures. UT Health Northeast scientists are known nationally and internationally for their contributions to medicine and biomedical science, and train the next generation of biomedical scientists.
Trainees include Ph.D.s doing postdoctoral work in the laboratories and students in the UT Health Northeast Biotechnology Master’s Program. A Summer Externship Program provides high school and college students with the chance to observe the lab work and shadow clinicians treating patients with diseases being studied in the labs.
Over the past few months alone, UT Health Northeast research teams brought in almost $13 million of new funding from the NIH and other sponsors. That funding enables UT Health Northeast scientists to advance new understanding of lung injury, in- cluding pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs; pulmonary TB and related infections; cancer; and vascular diseases. Important research is also being done in occupational medicine and community health.
A new research focus area is in depression.
The 21st Century Cures Act will predictably lead to better treatment options for over the next decade. But progress is being made here and now. This year, a new drug identified in NIH-funded research at UT Health Northeast went into clinical trial testing in Australia and New Zealand.
If successful, that drug could help patients with infections surrounding the lungs to avoid surgery and recover faster. In other high impact projects, UT Health Northeast scientists are partnered with colleagues at UT Tyler, MD Anderson and collaborators all over the world to enable better medical outcomes for East Texans and patients everywhere. New and better medicine is on the way.
Steven Idell M.D., Ph.D., is senior vice president for research and graduate studies, UT Health Northeast.