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Federal pediatric medical research act passes Senate, heads to White House

A bipartisan pediatric medical research bill named for Loudoun County childhood cancer awareness advocate Gabriella Miller was passed by unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and will go to President Obama to be signed into law.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a foremost supporter of HR 2019, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, said in a statement that the bill offers an example of “the good that can be done when both parties work together.”

“One courageous young girl, Gabriella Miller, inspired bipartisan action to help research, treat and cure pediatric diseases and disorders,” Cantor said. “When people would remark that Gabriella was wise beyond her years, she would tell them that having a brain tumor means you have to grow up real fast. And so, a 10-year-old girl was battling for more pediatric research at the same time she battled for her life.”

Gabriella, a Leesburg fifth-grader who became a nationally recognized public speaker and activist during her 11-month battle with an inoperable brain tumor, died in October.

The research act, introduced by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), was passed by the House of Representatives in December. Some House Democrats opposed the bill, claiming that it distracted from deeper, Republican-supported sequester cuts to National Institutes of Health funding.

“Detractors have said this isn’t enough, we need more funding for NIH, and we agree,” said Megan Whittemore, Cantor’s press secretary. “This is a first step, and the leader has been emphatic about that.”

The bill diverts to research $126 million over 10 years from a rarely used fund used to finance national political conventions. The money will go to the NIH common fund, supporting research into childhood cancer and other pediatric diseases and developmental disorders.

In January, Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) of Virginia, along with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), announced their support of the act. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) also signed on as one of more than 100 co-sponsors of the legislation.

Ellyn Miller, Gabriella’s mother, said Tuesday that the family is thrilled at the bill’s passage and that she imagined that Gabriella wouldn’t have been surprised at all by the legislation’s success in Congress.

“She’d be, like, ‘Of course it passed. It’s named after me,’ ” Miller said. “She would be thrilled to know that this bill’s passing will help not only other children with cancer but with many other diseases.”

Miller said the news came at a moment when the family needed it most.

“Yesterday, I attended a funeral of a girl that we knew from the hospital, a 3-year-old,” she said. “Gabriella knew her and would read stories to her. It was the first funeral of a child that I went to since Gabriella died.”

After she came home from the service, Miller said, she received a phone call from Kaine, who told her that the act would be presented before the Senate on Tuesday morning.

“That was exactly what I needed right then,” she said. “This will help so many children."

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.


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