Report gives NIH-sponsored clinical research a good report card

DALLAS Nov. 6, 2003 A slew of recommendations made in 1997 by a committee commissioned to review the National Institutes of Health's efforts in clinical research has had a positive effect, according to a report in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Jean D. Wilson, professor of endocrinology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and co-author of "Clinical Research and the NIH A Report Card," said, "There's still a great deal that needs to be done, but this points to several things to build on."

Dr. David G. Nathan of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston co-wrote the report with Dr. Wilson.

At the time of the 1997 review, the NIH's clinical research initiative was believed to be in jeopardy. In particular, the committee found that the financial burden shouldered by many young physicians fresh out of medical school often prevents them from spending adequate time as research trainees under the guidance of a seasoned mentor.

"The large amount of debt incurred during the training of young physicians makes it very hard to launch an academic career," said Dr. Wilson. "If they could spend more time training it would greatly benefit the research enterprise in the long run."

In response to the problem, Congress passed a competitive loan-relief program for clinical research physicians, called the Public Health Improvement Act of 2000.

In 2002, $30 million was committed to the NIH's educational-loan-relief program. Of the 766 applicants, 55 percent of minority applicants were approved along with 80 percent of all other applications. The number of applications actually was low, Drs. Wilson and Nathan write, most likely because eligibility requirements were stringent. To help remedy the problem, eligibility requirements this year were relaxed for some applicants.

To help young scientists develop clinical research, a number of different programs have been instituted nationally and at UT So

Contact: Steve OBrien
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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