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NIH Braces for Stimulus Impact, Children's Study Overruns

The mood was mostly upbeat today at a House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing to discuss how the National Institutes of Health is spending its $10 billion windfall in the Recovery Act. But hearing chair Jesse Jackson Jr. (D–IL) noted the obvious: The 2-year bolus of money could prove to be "a double-edged sword" if scientists can't keep going when NIH's budget drops to normal levels in 2011.

Raynard Kington, NIH acting director, said that because the stimulus-funded grants will lead to new advances and ideas, NIH expects a rise in applications in 2011. As a result, the success rate for grants could "drop several points below what it has been" if NIH does not receive a "substantial" budget increase, Kington said. The success rate is projected to be 21% in 2009, NIH officials say, which is close to the historical low.

The hearing also revealed some troubling news: The congressionally mandated National Children's Study, which until recently had a projected price tag of about $3 billion over 25 years, is now expected to cost twice that much. Kington told lawmakers in prepared remarks that he's tasked his staff to "assess the true costs" and "make adjustments" to the controversial study, which was to enroll 100,000 pregnant women and follow their children's health. During the past few years, the Bush Administration requested no funding for the study. It is not yet known whether President Barack Obama's 2010 budget request will include it.