A psychological scientist goes to Washington to rally for NIH funding

More than 350 advocates and organizations met with Congress to urge for increased medical research funding.

By Dawn K. Wilson

The fifth annual Rally for Medical Research on Capitol Hill took place on September 14, 2017 with more 350 advocates and organizations participating. The Rally for Medical Research has been held annually since 2013 to raise awareness of the urgent need for investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to improve health, spur scientific progress, inspire hope, and save lives.

The American Psychological Association (APA), an active participating organization in this event, invited me to be a psychologist advocate given my NIH-funded research at the University of South Carolina.  I participated alongside other advocates from South Carolina, including fellow researchers from the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina and a team of patients.  The theme of this event was “Together for More Progress More Hope More Life.”  The 2017 rally, the largest one to date, included advocates from 37 states and the District of Columbia who conducted more than 250 meetings with House of Representatives and Senate offices. 

In fiscal years (FY) 2016 and 2017, Congress provided the first significant increases in funding for the NIH in more than a decade. This year’s rally aimed to build on that momentum by urging Congress to continue making medical research a national priority by providing robust, sustained and predictable funding increases for NIH in 2018 and beyond.  Given the administration’s FY 2018 budget proposal that called for massive cuts to NIH and other federal agencies, as well as more than a decade (since 2004) of near flat-funding for NIH when adjusted for inflation, we expressed our deep gratitude to Congress for its support of a spending bill that included a $2 billion funding increase for NIH in FY 2018.

Our South Carolina team of advocates met with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) to discuss our funding request.  Sen. Scott  is a strong advocate for youth with rare diseases and became a champion for an 11-year old girl who has had two brain surgeries for encephalitis, a disease that has seen little medical advancements in the past 50 years. Sen. Scott was supportive of our requests to increase NIH funding in the coming year (he also shared his birthday cake with us during our visit).

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Dr. Dawn Wilson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Dr. Dawn Wilson

We also met with South Carolina Congressmen Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).  Although Rep. Norman had not previously considered voting for the NIH funding increase, after we spoke with him and his staff for an hour (!), he agreed it was a worthwhile cause and he might have to reconsider.  Meanwhile, Rep. Norman will be in South Carolina soon to engage in efforts to increase health care access to rural health areas.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC; 3rd from left), Dr. Dawn Wilson (2nd from right), and other South Carolina advocates during the Rally for Medical Research.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC; 3rd from left), Dr. Dawn Wilson (2nd from right), and other South Carolina advocates during the Rally for Medical Research.

I was fortunate to share my work at the University of South Carolina with the senators and representatives with whom we met.  As the principal investigator on a $2.5 million NIH-funded project, “Families Improving Together (FIT) for Weight Loss,” I shared the importance of this program that targets overweight African American adolescents and their parents who are at high risk for diabetes and related chronic diseases.  Health care costs associated with managing these chronic diseases are expensive. This project is testing the efficacy of integrating cultural tailoring, positive parenting skills, motivational strategies, and behavioral skills into a comprehensive curriculum aimed at reducing obesity in African American teens and their parents.  It is one of the few large-scale NIH funded trials that specifically targets underserved ethnic minority populations using a family-based behavioral intervention for long-term lifestyle change. 

Our next steps are to disseminate this intervention on a population level, and test it in an effectiveness trial, through an online tailored program in community settings.  The critical point is not only that without the continued funding from the NIH, this work would not happen, but that the benefits that might be derived from the work, namely improvements in the rates of adolescent obesity for highly impacted, underserved ethnic minorities, would be lost.

APA is a strong advocate for science, working to protect and increase federal funding for psychological science.  Let’s continue to support these efforts by thanking our senators and representatives for the last two years of $2 billion dollar per year increases, but also letting them know that we need to see the same increase in the coming year.

Dawn K. Wilson is the advocacy liaison to, and member of, the Health Policy Council

of the Society for Health Psychology (APA Division 38).

Twenty-six organizations ask NIH to delay and reconsider clinical trials policy

Policy would reclassify basic research as “clinical trials.”

The American Psychological Association and 25 other organizations representing a broad range of scientific disciplines sent a letter to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, asking that NIH delay implementing its policy reclassifying much basic research as clinical trials. The letter concludes, “We urge NIH to work with the affected basic science communities to identify a reasonable solution.”

An earlier petition to Collins asking that the policy be changed has been signed by more than 3,500 scientists.

See here for previous coverage of this issue.  Additional materials can be found on the website of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, of which APA is a member.

APA, ACNP and CPDD ask FDA Commissioner to explain suspension of nicotine research project

Study examining effects of nicotine in squirrel monkeys was criticized by Jane Goodall.

A letter from the American Psychological Association, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, sent on October 5, 2017, raises concerns about the Food and Drug Administration’s suspension of a research project examining the behavioral and biological effects of various doses of nicotine in adolescent and adult squirrel monkeys.  A long-term aim of the research is to shed light on the role of nicotine reduction in reducing tobacco addiction in humans.

“On behalf of the members of the American Psychological Association (APA), American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), and College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), we are writing regarding your decision to suspend a specific research program using nonhuman primate models to study nicotine use disorders at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to a letter from primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall.

“As you may be aware, Dr. Goodall’s letter to you came at the behest of an organization, White Coat Waste Project (WCW), that is fundamentally opposed to all research with nonhuman animals. Your decision to suspend the research is extremely troubling because it appears to have occurred without any substantive input from experts in the scientific community who have deep knowledge and understanding of research on substance use disorders. Furthermore, the methods and technologies used in this study have been rigorously validated and commonly used in studies of substance use disorders, including research that is funded by other federal agencies, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

“Your letter to Dr. Goodall states that ‘currently there are still some areas for which non-animal testing is not yet a scientifically valid and available option.’ We strongly agree with that statement. We also believe that it falls short of fully recognizing and communicating the important role of nonhuman animal research in both basic and applied science.”

The full text of the letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, is available here. It references a letter opposing the claims of White Coat Waste and Dr. Goodall, signed by 46 researchers and endorsed by 78 additional scientists, including well-known experts in substance use disorders, and an article in the Washington Post that detailed the original FDA decision.

President’s opioid commission to discuss pain management and medication diversion

APA weighs in with response to commission’s interim report.  

On September 27, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis will hold its third public meeting, which will be livestreamed via the Office of National Drug Control Policy website at 12:30 p.m. Eastern (see also White House Live).  The meeting will consist of statements to the commission from government, nonprofit, and business organizations on the topic “Innovative Pain Management and Prevention Measures for Diversion,” followed by discussion of the issues raised.

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Marijuana research: Overcoming the barriers

APA works for legislation to advance research on marijuana.

Election Day 2016 wasn’t all about selecting the next president.   Whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use was on the ballot in five states.  The outcome was that California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada were added to the earlier list of four states, plus the District of Columbia, in which recreational use of marijuana is legal.  The measure was defeated in Arizona. An additional four states voted on medicinal use, with Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota voting in the affirmative and increasing the total number of states allowing medicinal or recreational use of marijuana to 28 (plus DC).

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Expansion of “clinical trial” definition draws widespread criticism

Scientists, APA and other organizations seek to alter policy at National Institutes of Health.

A policy set to go into effect in early 2018 at the National Institutes of Health would expand the definition of “clinical trial” to include nearly all NIH-funded research with human participants, including basic behavioral and basic cognitive neuroscience research. 

In addition to requiring pre-registration of funded studies on ClinicalTrials.gov, the policy would impose extensive requirements for record keeping and training of laboratory staff that are appropriate for genuine clinical trials but neither necessary nor relevant for basic research. 

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