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Vol. LXV, No. 18
August 30, 2013
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Offers Hope, Encouragement, Support
HHS Secretary Visits NIH, Addresses Town Meeting

On the front page...

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Masur Auditorium town meeting with NIH director Dr. Francis Collins

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Masur Auditorium town meeting with NIH director Dr. Francis Collins

When HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited NIH on Aug. 1, she brought messages of hope, encouragement and support—hope that progress-crippling budget cuts will end soon, encouragement that medical research is a top priority at the highest levels and support for ambitious science endeavors such as NCATS and the big data and BRAIN initiatives.

In a 2½-hour visit that included a stop at the Children’s Inn, a lab tour and a briefing with several institute directors, Sebelius ended the morning with a town meeting in Masur Auditorium.

“Sequestration is probably the dumbest economic policy I have ever seen in my entire life—let’s just start there,” she said, in answer to a question about whether current austere funding conditions should be considered the “new normal.” “Getting rid of sequestration—which is a multi-year noose around the neck of the government’s budget, so however bad it is this year, it gets worse. The noose is tightening and the targets are getting lower. Getting rid of that framework is the top priority for [the Office of Management and Budget], the top priority for the President, the top priority for this administration moving forward.”

Continued...

Acknowledging NIH’s loss of $1.5 billion (and $15.5 billion suffered by HHS overall) due to the cuts, Sebelius said she has “some hope that there is a growing sentiment not just among allies in the Senate, but a growing number of members on the House side that this policy doesn’t make sense.”

The secretary emphasized that NIH, medical research and scientific advances are among the Obama administration’s top concerns not simply for the health of citizens but also for the well-being of the economy.

“On behalf of the 300 million Americans who are not in the room today, I just want to say thank you,” she said. “There couldn’t be more important work anywhere in the world. We are trying to make sure that even in the most difficult budget times, you continue to have resources to keep that work going forward…We are investing tens of billions of dollars each year to make sure this institute stays the world-class scientific and biomedical research institute. I believe and I know the President believes that it is by far one of the most important investments we can make as a country. That investment pays off not only here but [also] in communities across the country…Everyone agrees that funding science at this moment in time is one of the single best investments this country can make, and cutting back on scientific research and funding is idiotic in a global economy…Your interests are at the top of the funding chain—not just at HHS but government-wide.”

Shown during the Secretary’s visit to the Children’s Inn at NIH are (from l) inn CEO Kathy Russell, inn dad Carlos Martinez, Tia Ford, Sebelius, Kayla Martinez, Collins, inn mom Dorelia Rivera and Dr. Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky of NIAMS’s Pediatric Translational Research Branch. With Collins (r), Sebelius views ongoing research in NCI’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Lymphoid Malignancies as postdoctoral fellow Dr. Anna Mazzucco (l), staff scientist Dr. Ryan Young and Dr. Louis Staudt (r), deputy chief of the NCI Metabolism Branch, explain the work. “The Secretary is looking at a lymphoma cell line growing in tissue culture derived from a particular type of aggressive lymphoma known as diffuse large B cell lymphoma,” Staudt said. “Some cells were treated with the drug ibrutinib, which blocks B cell receptor signaling and thereby kills these lymphoma cells.”
Shown during the Secretary’s visit to the Children’s Inn at NIH are (from l) inn CEO Kathy Russell, inn dad Carlos Martinez, Tia Ford, Sebelius, Kayla Martinez, Collins, inn mom Dorelia Rivera and Dr. Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky of NIAMS’s Pediatric Translational Research Branch.







With Collins (r), Sebelius views ongoing research in NCI’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Lymphoid Malignancies as postdoctoral fellow Dr. Anna Mazzucco (l), staff scientist Dr. Ryan Young and Dr. Louis Staudt (r), deputy chief of the NCI Metabolism Branch, explain the work. “The Secretary is looking at a lymphoma cell line growing in tissue culture derived from a particular type of aggressive lymphoma known as diffuse large B cell lymphoma,” Staudt said. “Some cells were treated with the drug ibrutinib, which blocks B cell receptor signaling and thereby kills these lymphoma cells.”

Photos: Bill Branson

Humorously referring to herself as a “recovering governor,” Sebelius said she was gratified to see firsthand the value to a community of NIH extramural investment. The University of Kansas last year was designated a national cancer center by NCI, a goal Sebelius began working toward when she served as head of the state.

“The research you’re doing on everything from heart attack to stroke to HIV/AIDS, cancer, universal influenza vaccine, Alzheimer’s, the new brain-mapping project—every place I look the efforts here are going to have a huge impact on not only the future health of this country but I think the future financial well-being of the country,” she said. “The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences that has been a huge focus of [NIH director] Dr. [Francis] Collins has enormous potential and is a great illustration of what a leader does even in a very difficult time. To look at the assets of a great institution like the National Institutes of Health, but recognize there are some missing pieces and [that] in order to take advantage of some of the major breakthroughs, you need to put a big bet down.”

At a brief meeting with NIH institute and center directors, Sebelius is greeted by (from l) NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, NINDS director Dr. Story Landis and NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew.

At a brief meeting with NIH institute and center directors, Sebelius is greeted by (from l) NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci, NINDS director Dr. Story Landis and NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew.

Asked whether science ever comes up as a solution in top-level cabinet talks, Sebelius said, “I know it may be hard to feel the love sometimes. I can tell you that the President is totally fascinated with science and research and is always a little unhappy if he didn’t hear something in advance of it coming out in the newspaper…He is interested not only in the breakthroughs and the research and the impact, but also understands what a critical component of our economy research is. Staying at the forefront of the world…NIH continuing to be the gold standard of the world in terms of a research facility is critical. There is support at the very highest levels, starting with the President. He is interested and eager to learn…You have brought out his inner nerd. Our directive each and every year—even in very difficult budget times—is ‘keep your hands off NIH.’”

Opening the town meeting and introducing Sebelius as “a remarkably quick study” who has had to “become an expert on an extraordinary range of issues…from disaster response to vaccine production to health care insurance to the innovative science for which NIH is so well known,” Collins said, “on behalf of the 19,000 NIH employees, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to my boss—and yours too, by the way.”

In parting comments, Sebelius hinted that NIH might expect another visitor—even higher on the leadership hierarchy. “I want to recognize Dr. Collins and the incredible team of institute leaders,” she concluded. “The team around the director is just dazzling. I will take it on as my personal mission to work on getting my boss back out here to reaffirm the very important role that you play. That’s my take-away from this.”


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