June 2002 Bulletin

Orthopaedists advocate for musculoskeletal research

Discuss future of NIAMS funding

By Sandra Lee Breisch

More than 50 orthopaedic surgeons and researchers descended on Capitol Hill on March 19 and 20, 2002, to meet with members of Congress to discuss the future of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for musculoskeletal research—specifically funding for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

AAOS participants included representatives from the Council of Musculoskeletal Specialty Societies, the Research Committee (reports to the Council on Research and Scientific Affairs), the Academic Advocacy Committee (reports to the Council on Academic Affairs), and other AAOS leaders.

"In this coalition approach, we met with key congressional leaders to tell them about the good things that scientific research funding has achieved and discuss future research programs that are in need of funding," explains Marc F. Swiontkowski, MD, chair of the Academy’s Committee on Research. "We reiterated the importance of musculoskeletal disease in the U.S. population and gave some economic figures about the impact of the burden of the disease. We expressed our concern about the future of continued funding of new researchers. If we don’t have the annual increases in the budget, the new researchers’ funding will suffer the most.

"We also thanked legislators and their staffers for their support in doubling the NIH budget."

Continued support crucial

Next year marks the completion of a five-year congressional commitment to double the NIH budget that has also increased NIAMS funding by approximately 75 percent and, consequently, increased the number of funded grants.

Of great concern is that future funding will be dramatically reduced for NIAMS due to the war on bioterrorism, the anthrax vaccine programs, and cloning of other pathogenic microbes responsible for diseases such as bubonic plague, small pox, cholera, and Q fever. "Although there has been terrific progress made in the federal budget to support biomedical science, these other very important programs will detract from NIH’s ability to fund basic and clinical research," stresses Gary E. Friedlaender, MD, chair of the Academic Advocacy Committee, member of the Council on Academic Affairs and past chair of the Research Committee. "However, we do know that Congress continues to value musculoskeletal research and has understood the importance of investing in the nation’s health."

Supporting NIAMS budget growth

According to Dr. Friedlaender, over the last four years, the NIAMS budget has increased somewhere between 12 and 14.5 percent each year. "This is an extraordinary improvement in funding that has allowed for exceptional growth in musculoskeletal research," he says. "This year, however, the President has proposed an 8.4 percent increase for NIAMS. This is well above the average growth for the federal budget, which is between 3 and 4 percent, but far short of the 15.7 percent that would be required to finish Congress’ original commitment to double NIH funding."

"We all know that increased funding for NIAMS benefits the entire field of orthopaedic research, as it allows more grants to be funded," says Dr. Swiontkowski.

"This process [our Research Capitol Hill Day] allowed us to reach a fairly broad range of congressional members and educate them on the important concerns of researchers, including the diminishing numbers of orthopaedic clinician-scientists. Our goal is to build a core group [orthopaedic surgeons and advocates] who will return to the Hill each year and develop relationships with the staff and Congress."

Adds Dr. Friedlaender, "We would like to underscore the enormous efficiency and effectiveness of our Washington office that worked in cooperation with the Research Committee and the Academic Advocacy Committee in organizing these crucial activities that include the education of orthopaedists in the nature of the [government’s] budgetary process. The March visit was also predicated upon an agenda that brought together, in a very productive manner, the Research Committee and the new Council on Academic Advocacy. I look forward to this important synergy in years to come."

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