Imaging institute bill passes House Commerce Committee

September 27, 2000

Hopes for establishment of a national imaging institute received a major boost Sept. 14 when legislation supporting its creation passed the House Commerce Committee in an overwhelming voice vote.The action, which followed by one day similar approval by a

Hopes for establishment of a national imaging institute received a major boost Sept. 14 when legislation supporting its creation passed the House Commerce Committee in an overwhelming voice vote.

The action, which followed by one day similar approval by a house subcommittee, sends the bill, HR 1795, to the full House of Representatives. A vote has not been scheduled.

Proponents are hoping that a companion bill will receive approval in the Senate. That bill, S 1110, is pending before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s subcommittee on public health.

The House bill calls for establishment of a National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. It does not authorize any new spending. Funding is expected to come from monies that the National Institutes of Health is allocating for basic imaging research, said Edward Nagy, executive director of the Academy of Radiology Research, a lobbying group that has led efforts to establish the institute.

The ARR was behind a letter-writing campaign by more than 4000 radiologists earlier this year (SCAN, 3/15/00). Not everyone is as supportive as that organization, however.

“The NIH has generally taken a position of being opposed to new institute proposals,” Nagy said of the agency. “They did not send a witness to the subcommittee hearing on this bill. They did send some testimony in writing, though.”

That testimony, filed by the Administration, opposed the creation of such an institute. It noted that during fiscal year 1998 Congress spent some $339 million on bioimaging research. Combined with related bioengineering expenditures, federal investment in basic research has been significant and is growing, the government wrote in its proxy presentation.

The National Institutes of Health press office would not comment on the vote, saying the federal agency was prohibited from discussing pending federal legislation with the media.

“This is a very strong endorsement from the Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the NIH,” Nagy said. “It was endorsed explicitly by the chair of the full committee and by the chair of the subcommittee. It’s a significant step for this bill.”

Dr. Ronald Arenson, chair of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, and secretary of the ARR board, is a strong backer of the institute.

“This bill is exceedingly important for the future of radiology, medical imaging in general, and bioengineering,” he said. “Medical imaging and bioengineering do not have a voice at the NIH table when decisions are made regarding priorities for funding, allocation of NIH resources, or proposals for special funding. The legislation is not asking for incremental funding, but we all hope that as new funds are allocated to the NIH by Congress, the new institute would be a major beneficiary.”

The Sept. 14 action was not surprising. A number of industry powerhouses have lobbied for approval, including GE and Kodak. Also supporting the measure are Fischer Imaging and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. Considerable support has come from the radiology community.

The proposed institute would focus on developing new technologies that are applicable to multiple specialties. The bill before the House specifies research that combines pure science and medical disciplines, technology assessment and outcomes studies, and new techniques and tools.

“This new institute also would benefit the intramural radiology program because of the elevation of medical imaging to the institute level,” Arenson said.