Senator Murray Emphasizes Need for Strong Nondefense Investments to Keep Propelling NIH’s Lifesaving Research


Washington, D.C. — Today—at a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on the fiscal year 2025 budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, discussed the need for strong nondefense investments to continue advancing NIH’s life-changing and lifesaving research. In opening comments, Senator Murray said:


“You know, the fact of the matter is NIH is fighting some of our nation's most devastating adversaries: cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease, opioid addiction, long COVID—to say nothing of rare diseases or pandemic threats.

“The lifesaving work happening at NIH really shows that—as I've been reminding my colleagues—if we are serious about protecting our families here, then we need robust defense and non-defense spending. Unfortunately, the tough caps that are squeezing DOD are squeezing NIH. They are threatening to slow or derail breakthrough patients and families that are desperately counting on today.

“That’s why I have been very clear that we have to invest in non-defense and in defense—we need parity, and we need to make sure that investments like medical research, which saves countless lives, get their due as well.

“I’m proud to say we have a long history of bipartisan support for NIH. I’ve worked across the aisle many, many times to advance this important work with crucial funding increases. So I hope we can all come together to support this work again, along with many of our other crucial domestic priorities.”


Senator Murray asked NIH Director Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D. about what NIH is doing to advance women’s health research, stating: “I also want to talk about the fact that women are half the population, you well know that. Yet we are not near where we need to be when it comes to federal investment in women's health research. I strongly support the administration's efforts to tackle this problem head-on, including the Executive Order that President Biden signed in March to better prioritize investments in women's health across the federal research portfolio. This is really a needed step to make sure women's health is better understood, so women can get quality health care at every stage. There are significant gaps in what we know about diseases and conditions that impact women, and a lack of treatments available even for things as universal as menopause. Talk to us about what NIH is doing to advance women's health research, including for conditions like menopause that are so common, and yet so misunderstood and overlooked.”


Director Bertagnolli responded: “NIH has a longtime commitment to women's health in many ways. I'll just call your attention to the Framingham Studies—75 years, deep understanding of women's cardiovascular health—50% women for all of those 75 years. And we've gained a lot of knowledge over that … However, we absolutely can do more. The new initiative now gives us an opportunity to address current challenges that are really important to women. You've already illustrated a few, maternal health—a vulnerable time—you know. Mental health, postpartum depression, so many areas there that deserve more attention. Alzheimer's disease, which has an increased risk in women. Mental health, overall. The menopause transition, a normal time of life, but the change in hormones can be incredibly disruptive. And there are also long-term health effects: bone health, etcetera, that we still haven't really developed the treatments and approaches that we need. Although we've made some progress, we can do more. And then, finally, what's our approach? We are taking, instead of a bit-by-bit approach—we want to take a life span approach to women's health, a much more comprehensive and lifespan approach that coordinates across all our institutes and centers.”


Senator Murray also pressed Director Bertagnolli about how the agency is working to ensure that NIH funding is not supporting researchers who create a hostile work environment for colleagues and students—something she has pushed NIH on for years. “I have a really important question I need to press you on,” said Senator Murray. “It's something I have been pressing on NIH for years—about how the agency will make sure that federal dollars are not supporting researchers who create a hostile work environment for colleagues and students. We have seen NIH fall short when it comes to holding grantees accountable and complicit as institutions ‘pass the harasser.’ We simply can't afford to have this agency's potential limited, and its workers harmed by sexual harassment, discrimination, or bullying in the workplace. NIH is in a position to set a standard for safe work environment in the biomedical research field. Under your leadership now, talk to us about what steps you are taking to make clear to institutions and your grantees that these behaviors will not be accepted and will result in the loss of federal funding?”


Director Bertagnolli replied: “First of all: abusive behavior of any type—sexual abuse, harassing, bullying, any type—is absolutely not to be tolerated anywhere. And we really thank you for your advocacy and championing this really important issue. So: specifics. First of all, thank you for your support in giving us the authority to require that institutions that we fund must report to us anyone who has been found to exhibit this behavior—has a real finding of this behavior. And when that happens, their funding is withdrawn. That is a solid and important step forward that you provided us with. However, we still have more work to do. And we need your help—and so I really look forward to working you on that. And I'll just say: it is still possible to ‘pass the harasser’ if someone has been accused but has not really had a finding—it is possible for them to then move and get a new job. And for us not to know what the results have been. Let me tell you: we've been trying to combat this as well by having an anonymous tip line. And we do get, and follow up on everything we get with anonymous tip lines. But we can work better to close this one remaining way.” Senator Murray and Director Bertagnolli committed to stay in touch and continue work on this issue.