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NIH Response to ADA Declaration That "NIH Declares: Diabetes Not a Priority."

Text of the Letter from the Harold Varmus, MD, Director of the National Institutes of Health, to Stephen Satalino, Chairman of the Board of the American Diabetes Association

April 15, 1998

Stephen J. Satalino
Chairman of the Board
American Diabetes Association
1660 Duke Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Dear Mr. Satalino:

Recently, I have received several electronic mail communications from members of the American Diabetes Association. These messages express distress, disappointment, and even anger with the National Institutes of Health. They apparently result from a statement, attributed to the American Diabetes Association, which reported negatively on comments I made at a recent congressional hearing about NIH funding of diabetes research.

I was very concerned by the dismay that these diabetes patients and their families expressed, and I asked my staff to locate the referenced ADA statement. From what we can reconstruct, we believe the patients are referring to a memorandum that the National Director of Advocacy for the ADA widely distributed on Friday, April 10, 1998. The memorandum provides commentary on a congressional hearing on "New Developments in Medical Research: NIH and Patient Groups," at which I testified on March 26, 1998, before the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment. Although this appears to be an ADA-generated document, I have been informed that it was not sponsored by the ADA organization.

When I read this memorandum, I could well understand and empathize with the sense of frustration and pain all diabetes patients would feel at seeing the heading, "NIH Declares: Diabetes Not a Priority." This theme continues throughout the memorandum, in which negative commentary about NIH diabetes research efforts is interspersed with the selective use of quotes taken out of context from my testimony. The memorandum urges recipients to send me their comments.

The selective use of quotes in the memorandum creates the misleading and erroneous impression that the NIH is not supportive of diabetes research, and that this is a long-standing policy decision. I believe this is a serious misrepresentation of the NIH and of my testimony. As with all statements I make in congressional hearings and other public appearances, my testimony stands for itself. I urge you and other members of the ADA leadership and membership to read my testimony in its entirety. I think you will find that it is supportive of diabetes research and of the diabetes community generally.

We are at a time when the scientific opportunities and resource base in diabetes research have never been greater. I believe we should all be working together to capitalize fully and productively on this unprecedented situation, and on the promise it offers to diabetes patients and their families. This year, for example, we have issued seven new research solicitations to increase momentum in the diabetes field. The scientific impetus for these initiatives was a trans-NIH symposium, which I sponsored last September with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, along with eight other participating Institutes. We have an active trans-NIH Diabetes Advisory Group, comprising the leadership of the Institutes--augmented by external scientific experts--to continue monitoring the development of several of these initiatives. To help guide the longer-term development of our diabetes programs, we have established the Diabetes Research Working Group to develop a comprehensive plan for all NIH-funded diabetes research. We will be sending this plan to the Congress within the coming year.

One current area of research focus is the pathogenesis and therapy of the complications of diabetes, including kidney and urologic complications. We are also expanding research efforts to understand the cell biology of the beta cell and the immunopathogenesis of Type 1 diabetes, as well as to develop new cellular and molecular approaches to achieving euglycemia. In addition, we are in the process of conducting two important primary prevention trials in diabetes. We will shortly launch a new National Diabetes Education Program to disseminate the important prevention message about the positive effects of blood glucose control, as demonstrated in our Diabetes Control and Complications Trial.

With respect to funding, we are very pleased that a major feature of the FY 1999 President's Budget Request is a trans-NIH Diabetes Research Initiative totaling nearly $415 million. These funds will enable us to pursue the most meritorious scientific concepts and proposals recommended to us by the diabetes community--including our ad hoc scientific advisors, peer review groups, and voluntary health organizations.

I believe we are on an important threshold for diabetes research and that our next steps will be positive ones--capitalizing on new technologies and making clinical strides. The NIH and its many scientists care deeply about diabetes patients. I would like to convey to all of them the enthusiasm and momentum that infuse the diabetes research enterprise today, rather than the inappropriate negative message in the memorandum that has triggered my recent electronic mail.


Harold Varmus, M.D.

For Additional Information

Posted 28 April 1998

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