Imaging institute takes first steps toward an uncertain future

May 23, 2001

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is moving forward. The fledgling institute has an acting director in place and plans to establish an advisory council. The council will probably be named within a few months, and a permanent

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is moving forward. The fledgling institute has an acting director in place and plans to establish an advisory council. The council will probably be named within a few months, and a permanent director could be in place by the fall.

NIBIB’s mission is to support fundamental research that applies the principles of engineering and imaging science to biological processes, disorders, and diseases. The institute has been charged with supporting ongoing NIH research and fostering the exchange of information with other federal agencies. There are concerns, however, that the institute will not have the funds to adequately perform its mission.

NIBIB will begin fiscal year 2002 with a budget of just $40.2 million. The paltry level of funding, compared with other parts of the National Institutes of Health, raises questions about the effectiveness of the institute in the near term and fears about whether it can catch up to other NIH components.

“We’re concerned that if funding levels for the future are based on the initial level, then a percentage increase each year is not going to get us to a level where we need to be,” said Reed Dunnick, M.D., a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Radiology Research, which lobbied extensively for the establishment of NIBIB.

The American College of Radiology has also expressed dismay at the size of the initial budget, which falls far short of what is widely believed necessary to support imaging and bioengineering research. For example, in fiscal year 1999, predating NIBIB, NIH awarded about $447 million for bioimaging research and about $697 million for bioengineering research. By contrast, the budget submitted for fiscal 2002 by interim director Donna J. Dean, Ph.D., asked for $40.3 million. The funding request submitted to Congress by the Bush administration asks for $40.2 million.

But fears surrounding the first-year budget may not be warranted. Dean, who was named interim director in late April, said future budgets might not be constrained by the limitations placed on established components of NIH. She believes funding could approach $100 million when some already funded grants are transferred to NIBIB from elsewhere at NIH.

“We had to craft a budget we thought was reasonable for new money and in line with what institutes had used before to start and build,” Dean said.

Dunnick, however, does not agree. Funding for the institute’s first fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, should have started at $100 million. This budget needs to then increase to $900 million over the next five years, if the institute is to be effective, he said. ARR is trying to convince Congress that the reasons used to justify the establishment of the institute in the first place justify a higher funding level as well.