NIH funding running dry

This isn’t exactly a surprise, but worth mentioning anyway:

Before the ink was dry on the government’s 2007 budget (or even completed for that matter), the Bush administration’s proposal for the 2008 budget was submitted on February 5th, and the news for biomedical researchers was not very good. According to sources the NIH is slated to receive a $500 million budget cut, before inflation is factored in—assuming a bill inflating their budget for 2007 passes through congress.

Making this even more dire for biomed researchers is the fact that over 10,000 NIH extramural grants are up for renewal in 2008. Those contending for extensions or renewals of such grants are now faced with double difficulty: less money to go around and more people vying for the same number of spaces. Constraints such as these have driven the average age of first-time grant recipients to over 40 years old, barely a young researcher anymore.

The simple truth is that the NIH is probably the single greatest investment of public funds apart from NASA in terms of knowledge generation for the benefit of society that the world has ever seen. Less funds mean less research; less Ph.D.s choosing an academic career; less innovation and less risk-taking. That means more orthodoxy, entrenched and defensive peer-review, and ultimately more echo-chambering.

Even with new funding programs aimed at transitioning postdocs to faculty, it’s hard to justify doing a post-doc to people in the field nowadays – if they have the flexibility, they can make more than double the salary working for industry. What does the future of our field, medical physics and MRI in particular, look like?

research money well spent

news flash: emotions sometime trump rational thought! Shocking, I know. Though I was intrigued at how the fMRI paradigm in this case provides a neat empirical example for why prisoner’s dilemma models don’t translate well into real-world practice:

A classic economic example is the “ultimatum game,” in which one participant gets 10 $1 bills (or loonies, in Canada). He chooses how many to offer to a second participant. If she accepts the offer, the money is split the way the first participant suggested; if she rejects the offer, nobody gets anything.

Logically, the first participant can maximize his money by offering a single dollar, because logically the second participant should accept that as being better than nothing. In real life, however, the second participant, if offered only a dollar or two, almost always rejects the offer.

Functional MRI scans of brain activity show that a low offer stimulates an area associated with negative emotions, including anger and disgust. It seems the second participant would rather punish the first participant for making such an insulting offer than make an easy buck. And usually, the person making the offer understands this and offers something close to an even split, averaging about $4.

I don’t really see why the above reasonable decision-making process is inherently non-rational or “emotional” though. Doesn’t it make good rational sense to “punish” someone making a lowball offer, so they are motivated to offer you more up front?

Best places to postdoc in the US: 2007

The Scientist has released the results of its annual poll and the verdict: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston ranks highest, followed by the J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco and the Environmental Protection Agency in the Research Triangle Park. Via Ars,

The most important criteria identified in the survey were access to training and experience that will prove useful, followed by access to books and journals, decent medical insurance, equipment, and the quality of the principal investigator. I’m not sure you’d find many postdocs who would disagree with these; if you’re going to spend three years of your life working on a project, then one would hope the skills and techniques learned would stand you in good stead in the future. Access to the scientific literature is vital, and if you’re not getting paid the earth, the ability to see a good doctor if you get sick is nice.

Least important on the list of concerns was the opportunity to advance within the department, followed by administration issues. Again, this is probably due to the way academic careers work, where it’s beneficial to move from one institution to another for different stages of your career, that way maximizing exposure to the broadest range of techniques, methods and approaches to science. Some institutions are also notoriously reticent about promoting their own postdocs into faculty positions.


An editorial in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine (J Nucl Med. 2007 Mar;48(3):331. PMID: 17332606) argues that combination PET/MRI systems are the future and will supplant PET/CT:

In a number of ways, the path to PET/MRI has been reverse of that to PET/CT. The first PET/CT design emerged from industry–academia collaboration and was a prototype for human clinical use that eventually stimulated a commercial response and led to the development of PET/CT for imaging small animals. In contrast, PET/MRI began with the small-animal design and then, over a decade later, the first PET/MRI brain images were acquired on a dedicated prototype system, following an impressive industrial backing that far exceeded that of the early PET/CT developments.
A mere 2 y after the advent of commercial PET/CT, Johannes Czernin from UCLA, at the 2003 annual DGN meeting, commented that “PET/CT is a technical evolution that has led to a medical revolution.” Today, at the dawn of PET/MRI, it may be said that “PET/MRI is a medical evolution based on a technical revolution.” Although PET/CT appears to have replaced stand-alone PET for most oncologic indications, it is reasonable to assume that PET/MRI will be the preferred imaging option for neurologic and central nervous system indications. Without doubt, such dual-modality combinations are here to stay because they incorporate the diagnostic power of PET. Thus, PET/CT and PET/MRI, by virtue of their combined anatometabolic imaging, will lead to a “new-clear” medicine and the demise of “unclear” medicine.

Continue reading “PET and MRI”

GE issues warnings about Omniscan

The following just came out over the SMRT mailing list:

Vendor issues new warning on Omniscan MR contrast for patients with kidney disease

GE Healthcare warned European providers Feb. 7 to discontinue the use of gadodiamide (Omniscan) for patients who may be at risk for a rare and life-threatening skin disease.

read the rest of the press release below the fold. Continue reading “GE issues warnings about Omniscan”