NIH Pain Research Funding Declining

December 18, 2008
Shivani Parmar, MPH

Government funding for pain research has dropped in the past five years, declining more than 9% a year since 2003.

Government funding for pain research has dropped in the past five years, declining more than 9% a year since 2003. A recent study published in the Journal of Pain shows that pain research accounts for “only 0.6 percent of all grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), despite the high prevalence of chronic pain” in the US.

Researchers from the University of Utah reviewed data regarding NIH grants awarded from 2003 to 2007 for pain research and compared it to the amount of funding allocated for studying nausea and the breathing disorder dyspnea. Results showed that “Following a 12% increase from 2003 to 2004, funding for pain research fell by 9.4% per year on average over the next 3 years. The percent of the total NIH budget going to support pain research increased to 0.78% in 2004 but fell to 0.61% in 2007.”

Pain research appears to no longer be a priority to the government. “Analysis of nausea and dyspnea research support revealed small but steady increases over the same period. Declining support for pain research disproportionate to decreases in the NIH budget signals a need for measures to promote funding for meritorious applications.”

“This startling finding shows the government’s meager investment in pain research is seriously out of proportion with the widespread chronic pain incidence in our society, which is estimated at one in four Americans and accounts for more than 20 percent of all physician office visits,” said Charles E. Inturrisi, president of the American Pain Society, in a press release. “And this disparity is not attributable to years of budget cuts at NIH, because the Journal of Pain study clearly shows pain research has a higher percentage decline than the overall NIH budget. So the drop in funding has not affected all research areas equally.”

Tracking funding has become increasingly important for researchers, as the government is decreasing budget allocations for research and financially focusing on issues of national security and the recent economic woes. The authors noted that data tracking funding is now particularly important when making policy decisions.

“Our goal is to provide policy makers with an objective and verifiable classification tool for measuring grant awards and funding trends to help determine if NIH research dollars are being directed where the scientific and clinical need is most compelling,” said Inturrisi.

Cognizant of NIH funding cuts and the current economic state, the authors maintain that “additional measures should be taken at NIH to improve the chances of funding for meritorious applications proposing research on pain.”