The sequester is hurting mental health research

From a letter sent today by Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to scientists holding NIMH research grants:

Our FY 2013… budget is approximately $1.395 billion. This includes a 5.0% sequestration reduction, an across-the-board 0.2% rescission, and a 0.6% DHHS Secretary’s discretionary transfer reduction. Overall, relative to FY2012, our budget is reduced by $84 million, or 5.7%. For anyone who tracks trends in funding, our FY 2013 budget is roughly equivalent, in absolute dollars, to our FY 2004 budget. Corrected for inflation, we are nearly back to 1999.

What is the effect of those cuts on NIMH research?

…we anticipate awarding 529 new Research Project Grants (RPGs) in FY 2013, which will reflect a reduction of 55 awards below the 584 new awards issued in FY 2012.

So, a 9.4% reduction in the number of new projects. How important is that?

Medical research is like buying lottery tickets. The great majority of projects make small contributions to knowledge or human well-being, but every so often there is a transcendent victory. It’s impossible to know in advance which project will be a triumph. If you want to find one, you need to buy a lot of tickets.

Mental health really really really needs some triumphs. Mental illness kills thousands of Americans and disables millions. The available medications and psychotherapies have only limited benefits. To my knowledge, there are no fundamentally new medications or psychotherapies on the horizon. If it was up to me, I would buy a lot more tickets.

@Bill_Gardner

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