National Institutes of Health (NIH) officials have decided to create a Center for Health Disparities Research on their own, instead of waiting for Congress to force it on them. The new center will coordinate research across NIH and make grants to investigate such questions as why the cancer death rate of African Americans is twice that of other Americans. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), who has been pressing legislation to create the center, this week hailed NIH's decision as "a tremendous step forward."
Former NIH director Harold Varmus resisted the idea last year, reasoning that, with 25 separate institutes and centers, NIH is already too Balkanized. He also worried that establishing the center would allow other arms of the agency to ignore health disparities issues. But Acting NIH Director Ruth Kirschstein says that won't happen; there are enough research questions to go around. Moreover, "the reality of it is that there will be a Center for Health Disparities Research at NIH at some point in time," says Acting Deputy Director Yvonne Maddox. If it isn't done now, she says, Congress would force "the same discussion" next year.