Senate bill boosts funding for HIT-enabled medical research

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday released its draft Fiscal Year 2020 funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services, including substantial increases for major medical research initiatives that leverage healthcare IT.

The legislation includes $42.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health, an increase of $3 billion.

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The funding boost for NIH is targeted—among other priorities—toward specific research programs:

  • $500 million (a $161 million increase) for the All of Us research program.
  • $500 million (a $71 million increase) for the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.

NIH’s All of Us research program seeks to recruit more than one million volunteers for the longitudinal study to contribute their physical, genomic and electronic health record data. Senate appropriators increased funding to “ensure that enrollment in the program continues on schedule,” according to the subcommittee’s bill report.

In addition to providing blood and urine samples as well as access to EHRs, information will be collected from All of Us research program volunteers through mobile technology, physical measurements and surveys. Ultimately, the goal is to create one of the largest and most diverse datasets of its kind for medical research.

The Senate subcommittee also said in its bill report that it “continues to strongly support” the BRAIN Initiative, a large-scale NIH program to push the boundaries of neuroscience research and equip scientists with insights from big data necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

Senate appropriators said the BRAIN Initiative “has the potential to unlock some of the most fundamental questions about how the brain functions.” Funding supports a network of integrated centers, collaborating laboratories and data resources to make molecular, anatomical and functional data about brain cells available to the broader research community.

“This bill funds a wide range of programs that have one thing in common—improving the quality of life for every American,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies.

Blunt added his subcommittee has continued its “pattern of increasing funding for groundbreaking medical research” at NIH and that the $3 billion increase in the FY2020 bill “marks a 40 percent increase over the past five years, paving the way for new advances that are giving hope to millions of families.”

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