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News from Capitol Hill

The Congress has not passed an FY 2001 spending bill for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH has, therefore, been operating under a series of congressional resolutions that provide funding on a temporary basis. At the present time, it is unclear when an FY 2001 spending bill will be agreed upon, passed by the Congress, and signed into law by the President.

President Clinton recently signed into law three bills of interest to the NIH.

1 The Public Health Improvement Act (H.R. 2498, now P. L. 106-505) consists largely of previously free-standing bills such as
  • the Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act
  • the Clinical Research Enhancement Act
  • the Twenty-First Century Research Laboratories Act
  • the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, the Lupus Research Act
  • the Prostate Cancer Research and Protection Act
  • the Organ Procurement Organization Certification Act
  • the Alzheimer's Clinical Research and Training Awards Act of 2000
as well as a new provision on sexually transmitted disease clinical research and training.

2 The Children's Health Act of 2000 (H.R. 4365, now P.L. 106-310) contains provisions on federal research into
  • asthma
  • autism
  • autoimmune diseases
  • birth defects
  • childhood malignancies
  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • Fragile X
  • hearing loss in infants
  • juvenile arthritis
  • muscular dystrophy
  • traumatic brain injuries
It also creates a pediatric research initiative at the NIH, authorizes repayment of educational loans for qualified health professionals conducting pediatric research, and establishes protections for pediatric research subjects. It requires that federal asthma activities be coordinated through the Coordinating Committee of the NHLBI National Asthma Education and Prevention Program.

3 The Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Act of 2000 (S. 1880, now P. L. 106-525) establishes in law a National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities at the NIH to coordinate health disparities research performed or supported by NIH. It also will establish
  • a grant program through the new Center to enhance biomedical and behavioral research training
  • an endowment program to facilitate minority and other health disparities research
  • a loan repayment program to encourage members of minority or other health disparities populations to pursue careers as biomedical research professionals

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Recent Advances from the NHLBI

Canine Narcolepsy Gene Provides Clues to Treatment of Human Narcolepsy

People with narcolepsy suffer from excessive sleepiness, vivid hallucinatory dreams, and in extreme cases, episodes of sudden weakness (cataplexy). Narcolepsy is thought to affect as many as 1 in 2,000 people in the United States. The disorder is devastating to those affected and their families. Recent studies have identified a defective gene responsible for narcolepsy in dogs and discovered a related pathway that helps to maintain wakefulness. This clue led researchers to conduct clinical studies, which indicate that the same neural pathway is not functioning properly in most cases of human narcolepsy. Although a cure for narcolepsy is still far off, researchers are optimistic that these findings will lead to improved treatments for narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.

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Ebola Vaccine in the Works

Ebola virus is a rare but deadly microbe that kills up to 90 percent of the people whom it infects. Although outbreaks are not common or widespread, Ebola has received much publicity because of its horrifying symptoms, which include high fever and massive internal bleeding. To add to the mystery surrounding the cause and cure of this deadly disease, the virus strikes sporadically, often devastating a whole community efore disappearing into the jungle, where it hides away in an as-yet-unknown host. Recently, scientists identified the viral gene thought to be responsible for the massive internal bleeding that leads to most of those deaths. Based on information about the gene and the protein it produces, researchers developed a vaccine that is being tested in animals. If the animal studies are successful, vaccine trials can be initiated in humans.

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Hostility May Be Associated with Early Atherosclerosis

Hostility may be hazardous to your health in more ways than you thought. Researchers studying factors that may place young adults at risk for developing coronary artery disease found that hostility correlates strongly with the subsequent development of coronary calcification, a precursor to atherosclerosis. This association persisted even when lifestyle and physiological differences were considered, leading scientists to wonder whether hormone levels, blood pressure changes, or other conditions are responsible for the increased susceptibility to heart disease. In addition to providing insight as to potential causes of heart disease, the study indicates a potential preventive strategy. Since other studies have shown that behavioral therapies can reduce hostility levels, researchers hypothesize that interventions to reduce hostile attitudes and behaviors may also prevent atherosclerosis.

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Inhaled Steroids Safe and Effective for Children with Asthma

Inhaled corticosteroids are safe and effective for the long-term treatment of children with mild to moderate asthma, according to the NHLBI's "Childhood Asthma Management Program (CAMP)." The 5-year study is the longest and largest controlled study of treatments for childhood asthma. It showed that inhaled corticosteroids provide superior asthma control. Their only side effect was a temporary one - a small reduction in the children's rate of growth observed just in the first year of treatment. NHLBI Director Dr. Claude Lenfant said "CAMP provides scientific evidence regarding the long-term effectiveness and safety of inhaled corticosteroids for children. Physicians, other health care professionals, and parents should feel comfortable using them to help children with mild to moderate asthma participate fully in childhood activities."

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