On June 26, 2011, Dr. Kenneth Warren, Acting Director of NIAAA, spoke to the Research Society on Alcoholism’s (RSA’s) 34th Annual Scientific Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, kicking off 4 days of scientific presentations, poster sessions, and collegial exchange. The RSA Annual Meeting is an important conference for NIAAA because it gives program staff an opportunity to interact directly with grantees and scientists from the alcohol research field. Former NIAAA directors Dr. Enoch Gordis and Dr. T.K. Li also attended the event, as did more than 80 NIAAA staff members, including all NIAAA program directors. The topics addressed at this year’s RSA meeting represent the full range of research supported by NIAAA—from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and systems biology to epigenetics, pharmacotherapy, and screening and brief interventions. In his keynote address, Dr. Warren provided an update on NIAAA’s current activities. He addressed, in particular, the status of a new Institute on Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction and gave an update on the current state of funding for NIAAA.
Dr. Warren summarized the events leading to the decision to consider this new Institute. He outlined the different workgroups, their findings, and the votes that took place. He also described the latest developments; that is, in December 2010, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appointed a committee to develop a model for the new Institute. That committee, which is chaired by Drs. Larry Tabak and Steve Katz and includes members from across NIH, is now examining the portfolios of all the Institutes with addiction-related research to develop a “straw model” for the new Institute. The plan initially was to be completed this summer, but the deadline now has been extended to the start of Federal Fiscal Year 2014, or October 2013. According to Dr. Warren, the delay is to allow more time for developing a clear rationale, considering the complexity of the scientific research, and to allow stakeholders to have more input into the process.
Turning next to the NIAAA budget, Dr. Warren said that although media reports indicate that the budget is tightening and significant reductions are occurring across the Federal Government, this has not been the case for NIH. Although this is the first time he recalled seeing a reduction in funding, he pointed out that a 0.9 percent (or 1 percent) reduction means that NIH continues to fair well even in this tough economy. In terms of grants and funding for NIAAA-supported research, Dr. Warren stressed that all career awards will continue and will not be cut. Likewise, meeting awards and service awards will remain steady, as will funding for the Alcohol Research Centers. Cuts will need to occur, however, in the total number of awards, which will be reduced from 189 in 2010 to 147 awards in 2011.
Dr. Warren assured the members of RSA that, in the meantime, NIAAA will continue with business as usual. Said Dr. Warren, “We’re in the business of fostering research that the people in this society do and do so well.”