Nuclear medicine left out of energy budget

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By Roger Snodgrass

Among the measures at risk in this years appropriation process is a $20 million item for nuclear medicine research in the Department of Energy.

About $2.5 million of that amount would normally flow down into New Mexico, primarily at the national laboratories, said Robert Atcher, president-elect of the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM).

Atcher, who lives in White Rock and is a program manager in the Bioscience Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he was in Washington on behalf of the society this week in an effort to salvage the program.

Funding for basic nuclear medicine research in DOEs Office of Science was dropped from the FY06 budget, because of what Atcher described as an arbitrary decision by an examiner in the Office of Management and Budget, and has been excluded from the budget by the vagaries of the appropriation process since then.

An appeal managed to get the item restored in the House for the 2006 fiscal year appropriation, but when the Senate did not go along with that item and replaced it with an equivalent of earmarks, Atcher said. We didnt get the money back.

For the current fiscal year, he continued, The Senate put it back but the House didnt have it in the bill, and the exclusion continued because of the continuing resolution that funded DOE for FY07.

So now, like a piece of driftwood pinned in a backwater, the research budget remains just out of reach absent again in the House bill and present in the Senate committee proposal.

The continuing resolution, now proposed as an interim solution for the FY08 budget, will not help nuclear medicine, because it is based on last years budget figures, which was based on the year before.

This week the National Academy of Science formally released a review on the state of the science of nuclear medicine, in light of the discussions between the DOE and the Office of Management and Budget.

Advances on the horizon in nuclear medicine could substantially accelerate, simplify and reduce the cost of delivering and improving health care, the committee wrote in introducing its recommendations.

The first recommendation called for DOE and the National Institutes of Health to coordinate a national nuclear medicine research program.

In committing itself to the stewardship of technology development (radiopharmaceuticals and imaging instrumentation), the DOE would reclaim a leadership role in this field, the authors wrote.

The report emphasized the relationship of the research to recent advances in an approach called personalized medicine. These are strategies, enabled by advances in molecular biology, genetics and proteomics, for detecting and treating disease based on an individuals unique profile.

Based on the committee report, SNM called for federal funding for basic molecular imaging and nuclear medicine research to be restored to DOE.

The budget item has been given full bipartisan support by New Mexicos congressional delegation.

During the House debate on the appropriation bill in June, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., offered an amendment to restore the funding, but withdrew it before a vote, citing what she said was a legitimate point of order against this amendment.

Congress reduced this program in fiscal year 2006 by $23 million because of pressures on the other part of the DOE budget, but also directed them to transfer the program over to the National Institutes of Health, particularly the National Cancer Institute, she said at the time. The NIH did not pick up this research.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman was among 15 senators who signed a dear colleague letter to key senators on the appropriations committee asking for restoration of the funding in the 2008 budget.