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ADA Advocacy update
April 12, 1998

NIH Declares: Diabetes Not a Priority

I am writing to alert you to a congressional hearing that took place in Washington on March 26, 1998. The focus of this hearing was medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the government's medical research agency. It is the part of the government responsible for finding a cure for diabetes.

At that hearing Dr. Harold Varmus, the head of the NIH, conceded that between 1987-97, diabetes research was not a priority to NIH. However, he said during this same time period, "there were very vast increases in our spending on Alzheimer's and AIDS."

Between 1987-97, Congress increased the NIH budget by 100%. But during the same time period, NIH increased the diabetes research budget by just 35%. As a result, diabetes researchers lost nearly $1 billion in NIH funding.

But the bad news gets even worse. Between 1987-97, diabetes research didn't even keep up with medical inflation! Diabetes research grew 35% while medical inflation grew 48%. Because inflation grew faster than diabetes research, scientists lost $235 million in buying power.

A 5% raise at your job isn't worth much if the price of everything has gone up by 10%, is it? If this goes on for 10 years, you've lost some serious money/buying power. That's exactly what happened to diabetes research between 1987-97.

Incredibly, Dr. Varmus defended NIH's policy. He stated that the agency has "paid proper attention to the problem of diabetes." Varmus also stated that diabetes research is "well supported" by NIH.

ADA is happy that Dr. Varmus has admitted the obvious - that diabetes hasn't been a priority to NIH. But we're baffled by his statement that NIH has "paid proper attention' to diabetes." Tell that to a parent whose child endures finger sticks and insulin shots every day. Or to anyone else with diabetes for that matter.

Tell it to scientists as well. The drought in NIH funding has left many diabetes researchers with ideas, but no money to pursue them. A group of leading scientists recently identified more than 50 promising areas of diabetes research that need funding. You can bet other diseases, with billions in funding each year, don't face a similar problem.

Dr. Varmus's comments should be a wake-up call for the diabetes community. Dr. Varmus's comments show what we're up against in Washington, DC. We must continue to put pressure on the government to provide the money to find a cure.

For too long, no one has been effectively advocating for a cure in Washington, DC. The American Diabetes Association is changing that. But we need your help to succeed.

Hopefully, you have already persuaded your Congressman to sign the Open Letter to Congressman John Porter. That's a great start. So far, we've convinced almost 120 members of Congress to sign the letter. I'll send another update on the status of this important project next week.

But in the meantime, you should also email Dr. Varmus directly. Let him know that you strongly disagree with his comments that NIH has "paid proper attention to diabetes" and that diabetes research is "well supported" by NIH. If we don't tell him, who will?

You can reach Dr. Varmus at Please forward any responses you receive from him to me at Please also feel free to share your comments on this subject with me.

Many thanks for your continued support of diabetes advocacy and the American Diabetes Association. Together we can make a difference.

Joe LaMountain
National Director of Advocacy
American Diabetes Association
1660 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(f) 703-549-8748

Posted 12 April 1998

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