Healy backs awards program for 'medical Mozarts' Head of NIH wants researchers operating on the edge to get fair share of grants.

April 26, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

BETHESDA -- Science desperately needs researchers who, like Mozart, are unconventional, says Dr. Bernadine Healy, the new director of the National Institutes of Health, the world's leading medical research organization.

So now for the first time, there is a new $30 million awards program Healy believes will help bring in the creative investigators she likens to the brilliant and unconventional composer. "In the past, the Mozarts of medicine often have not been funded because their work was considered "a little too risky," she said.

"Science cannot be regulated, it cannot be contained in a box and we don't want to stamp out error," Healy, the first woman to head the NIH in 104 years, said yesterday. "Science should not be too hard on the Mozarts."

The James A. Shannon Director's Award will fund about 300 grants starting on or before September. The funds will come from two sources -- $14 million from the NIH director's discretionary fund and $16 million through the director's authority to transfer funds.

"This new mechanism will allow support for an investigator on the margin of excellence and provide a limited award to those whose scores on applications fall just short of the cut-off for funding," Healy said.

The Shannon Award would be for up to $100,000 for a two-year period, but only $50,000 could be spent each year. The award would allow investigators to further develop, test and refine research techniques.

Healy, a former professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore and chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Research Institute in Ohio, will earn $138,000 this year, $38,000 more than the post paid before. It had been vacant for more than a year and a half.

At 46, Healy leads a complex of 14 institutes that investigate the causes and treatments of a broad range of diseases. The NIH has a budget of more than $7 billion, employs more than 13,000 people and awards more than 22,000 grants to medical researchers each year.

Speaking at a "media availability" session yesterday at the NIH, Healy said that the battle against breast cancer is a top priority. She said the National Cancer Institute will spend $91 million this year to wage war against the malignancy which is expected to kill 44,500 American women in 1991.

That sum is over and above the $500 million that will be spent on a 10-year study of women's health that will be launched early next year after nine months of planning.

The NIH women's total health project which will look at cancer, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis -- the major causes of illness and death in women -- was unveiled last Friday by Healy at a hearing of the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on aging.

Yesterday, she said the project "will probably include the largest clinical study ever in any population in the world" and track the health of "hundreds of thousands of women." Some answers regarding cardiovascular disease might be known within three years, she said.

In addition, the study will evaluate the medical treatment women receive and look at the potential health benefits of diet restrictions, dietary supplements such as calcium and vitamins, hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women, quitting

smoking and exercise.

On another topic, Healy stressed that there has been widespread misinformation about the ban on research using fetal tissue from induced abortions.

"I'm concerned about misinformation that implies the ban on fetal tissue research will rob Parkinson's and diabetes patients of any cure," she said. "It's very important for patients suffering with these terrible diseases not to feel they have been abandoned by the NIH. Other important work is going on."

Healy does not oppose the practice.

"My own position on fetal tissue transplantation has been a matter of record. It has not changed. But, I now have a responsibility to abide by the rules and regulations that govern the NIH."

Concerning salaries at NIH, Healy said: "We will be able to pay higher salaries, primarily to medical Ph.Ds. In the past, they've gone to medical-doctor scientists. Our salaries are moving into the competitive range. But, when people go into science, they don't go into it for money, it's the intellectual stimulation. It's an exciting and joyous career and there are some successes."

On scientific fraud, Healy said: "We are seeing a lot of attention to this. No question about it, the attention has led to a heightened sensitivity to us in science and publishing. Scientists should open their eyes to the problem and ask, 'Am I doing things right? Will my lab books stand up to scrutiny?' We could learn from industry. They have good laboratory data and practices."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.