Bill to establish NIH imaging institute stands good chance in Congress

March 15, 2000

A proposed National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has its best shot yet at making it through Congress during this legislative session, according to its sponsors. The potential home for radiology at the National Institutes of Health

A proposed National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has its best shot yet at making it through Congress during this legislative session, according to its sponsors.

The potential home for radiology at the National Institutes of Health has been introduced in Congress before, but has yet to gain approval. It now has more than 100 cosponsors in the House and was introduced this session in the Senate by majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS).

“This is a short session, but we have high hopes that the bill will get out of committee,” said John Flaherty, spokesperson for Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC), who introduced HR 1795. “It’s been gaining more and more momentum.”

Fueling some of that momentum has been a letter-writing campaign by more than 4000 radiologists and lobbying by the Academy of Radiologic Research, as well as by industry executives.

“The fundamental growth of a specialty is directly dependent on the development of new techniques and new treatments,” said Dr. Ron Arenson, chairman of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and secretary of the ARR board. “If radiology is going to remain a strong specialty, contributing substantially to the well-being of the population, we must have strong support for research and development.”

Industry sources are also pitching in. GE and Kodak are lobbying in favor of the bill, according to Edward Nagy, president of the ARR.

“It is essential for the diagnostic imaging industry—given its growth—that we have a centralized post to conduct research,” said Morgan Nields, CEO of Fischer Imaging. “It should have been done a long time ago. The way NIH has been developed, it is disease-oriented, so the imaging technologies used by most of the institutes have never had research focus themselves.”

“If we had moved faster,” he said, “it would have been good for science, for the industry, and for NIH. This will provide more coherence to the process and a scientific view of imaging technology, which is now haphazard from a public policy standpoint.”

Also weighing in is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

“Consolidating imaging research in a single NIH institute would promote more rapid innovation as well as more effective and efficient use of research dollars,” said NEMA vice president Robert Britain. “Moreover, creating a mechanism to coordinate imaging research throughout the federal government…would reduce duplication and inefficiency, optimize the federal investment in imaging, and provide a mechanism to facilitate the transfer of technologies with important medical applications.”

Not everyone favors formation of a new institute, however. Radiology research has strong backing at existing institutes with deep pockets—especially the National Cancer Institute. The NIH itself has often been reluctant to support additions to its structure.

“Certainly, the (NCI) will be upset if funding is taken from them to give to the new institute, beyond current imaging funding levels,” Arenson said.

The proposed NIBIB would concentrate on developing new technologies applicable to multiple specialties. The bill introduced in Congress specifies research that combines pure science and medical disciplines, technology assessment and outcomes studies, and new techniques and tools.

The new institute’s funding would have to be carved from a larger overall NIH budget. As the proposal stands, current NIH institutes would retain some imaging research, Nagy said.

“In general, applied research—research that uses imaging technologies to study a problem within the mission of a disease- or organ system-related institute—would continue to be supported by the existing institute.”

“The time to do this is now,” Nields said.