Congress restores DOE funding for nuclear medicine research

January 11, 2008

Nuclear medicine proponents are celebrating congressional action that has restored $17.5 million to important basic scientific research programs at the Department of Energy.

Nuclear medicine proponents are celebrating congressional action that has restored $17.5 million to important basic scientific research programs at the Department of Energy.

The appropriation, earmarked for nuclear medicine research at the DOE, was included in an omnibus appropriations package for fiscal 2008. President Bush signed the bill into law Dec. 26, 2007.

The action climaxed a two-year campaign by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and academic nuclear medicine laboratories to restore about $23 million for basic nuclear medicine research that was cut from the fiscal 2006 federal budget. The loss of funding combined with DOE statements appeared to signify that the department was severing its nearly 60-year association with the nuclear medicine community.

In their fight to restore the cuts, supporters noted that the DOE had funded many scientific discoveries, including the development of radiopharmaceuticals and imaging instruments, that form the basis for contemporary nuclear medicine practice.

A National Academy of Science panel on the future of nuclear medicine research concluded in a 2007 report that loss of funding had a devastating effect on the field, said SNM president-elect Robert Atcher, Ph.D. A survey associated with the panel's research found that the financial support for nuclear medicine research at the National Institutes of Health amounted to only $18 million during the last year of DOE funding.

"In essence, we lost over 50% of our funding when it was pulled from the DOE budget in 2006," he said.

The lost support prompted many research groups and individual scientists to shift the focus of their work away from nuclear medicine research, he said. Federal support for Atcher's own research as a radiopharmaceutical chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory was cut short. Funds subsidizing the training of nuclear chemists and physicists were eliminated.

The timing of the cuts was unfortunate, coming while momentum was building to toward major discoveries concerning the genetic underpinnings of disease, according to Atcher.

"The funding simply went away at a time when the most exciting technical developments in the past 30 years of research were going on," he said.

Restored funding will be directed to the medical applications and measurement science division of DOE's Office of Biology and Environmental Research. Congress stipulated that funding will be allocated through a peer review process to promising research proposals, Atcher said.

He credited a Capitol Hill Day event conducted during the 2007 SNM meeting in Washington, DC, in June as a turning point that focused congressional attention on the funding issue. About 200 members of the SNM talked to their representatives and senators. Key allies included Sens. Kit Bond (R-MO) and Tom Harkin (D-IA). Their "Dear Colleagues" letter directed to the key Senate energy and water appropriations subcommittee was influential, Atcher said. Subcommittee chair Sen. Bryan L. Dorgan (D-ND) and ranking minority member Sen. Peter Domenici (R-NM) supported the measure.

Atcher credits the SNM and it members for ultimately winning the fight.

"The SNM was the lead and, in some cases, the sole organization that took on the task to get that funding restored," he said. "Many of us in leadership made numerous trips to Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress and their staff about the dramatic impact this was going to have."

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archive:

National Academies tout nuclear medicine's revival

SNM advertisement asks Congress to restore DOE funding

NAS report recommends renewed federal leadership in nuclear medicine science

Nuclear medicine experts dominate national panel

Feds appraise the value of nuclear medicine research

Congress cuts $23 million from nuclear medicine research