Friday, March 09, 2007

Health Findings From Institute To Be Free Online

The following was posted in this morning's Washington Post, and is what I would describe as a major victory for U.S. taxpayers. At present, the results from the $600 million spent on biomedical research studies at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, even those funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have not always been made readily available to taxpayers. However, there has been pressure to change this and it looks like taxpayers have scored a recent victory.

Some relevant background info: As you may be aware, research activity at NIH is divided into two parts: the "extramural" parts consist of funding of biomedical research outside of NIH, while the "intramural" parts of NIH conduct research within the 27 "institutes" that comprise the NIH. The biggest issue has been with extramural research, as this is funded by taxpayers even though the actual research is done elsewhere, but the results of this research has not always been made available to taxpayers. A major recipient of NIH extramural research dollars has been the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

The HHMI is a U.S. non-profit medical research institute originally founded by the aviator and engineer Howard Hughes in 1953. Initially, the institute was formed with the stated goal of basic research including trying to understand, in Hughes' words, "genesis of life itself". However, despite its lofty objective, in the early days, HHMI was seen as being a tax haven for Hughes' huge personal fortune.

In 1976, Howard Hughes died in without a will. Following a number of lengthy court proceedings, the HHMI received huge sum of money from the Hughes fortune enabling it to dramatically increase its research budget. During that same period, HHMI refocused its mission primarily on genetics, immunology and the rapidly growing field of molecular biology. The work in immunology holds a great deal of interest to patients with type 1 diabetes since it is an autoimmune disease.

To date, HHMI has only selectively made available its research results, even that which is funded by U.S. taxpayers. The NIH has been pressuring HHMI to release the results of the studies it has funded, and today, HHMI finally agreed to do just that. Even more compelling, however, is that Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is expected to reintroduce legislation that would require free posting of all government-funded research. Congress has been considering adding that requirement to the National Institutes of Health appropriations bill.

Regardless, this article was in today's Washington Post, and may be of interest.

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