Senate Reauthorizes NIH

With no objections and virtually no debate, the Senate Thursday passed a one-year reauthorization for the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH bill traditionally is one of the most contentious pieces of health legislation, often acting as a vehicle for abortion and other biomedical ethics issues. But weeks of negotiations, and a shortening of the authorization period from three years to one year, convinced legislators not to offer controversial amendments on fetal tissue and embryo research.

As approved by the Senate, the bill would authorize $3 billion in FY97 for the National Cancer Institute and $1.6 billion for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The measure also would elevate the National Center on Human Genome Research to full Institute status, authorize a 25 percent increase in funding for diabetes research, and authorize creation of up to 10 centers to study Parkinson's Disease. The centers would be named after former Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., who suffers from the disease.

The House has not acted on an NIH bill, and it is not clear whether it will take up the Senate-passed measure. Because the bill is so often controversial, the portions of NIH that require periodic reauthorization frequently have operated without formal authority, sometimes for years at a stretch.

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