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Five big wins: Congress boosts medical science funding in key areas

The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Congress unveiled a bipartisan budget late Sunday that contains a number of welcome surprises for researchers who had been panicking since March, when President Trump proposed deep funding cuts for science and health. Under the deal, the National Institutes of Health will get a $2 billion boost in fiscal year 2017, as it did the previous year. Trump had proposed cutting the NIH budget by about one-fifth, or $6 billion, in a draft 2018 budget.

The NIH budget continues support for key areas of research, such as precision medicine and neuroscience, that were priorities under President Barack Obama; adds funding to target diseases such as Alzheimer's and cancer; and combats emerging threats such as antibiotic-resistant infections. Here are some of the big research winners:

1) Cancer: An additional $476 million for a total of $5.7 billion is designated for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In recent years, the NCI has been investing in research into early detection using blood tests for circulating “biomarkers” of cancer. Under the previous administration, Vice President Joe Biden led a “cancer moonshot” initiative to bring together experts from government, academia and industry to look for more effective treatments for the disease that claims the lives of about 600,000 Americans each year.

2) Alzheimer's: Alzheimer's is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, yet it remains a mystery in terms of its cause and possible treatments. Public health experts expect the number of Americans with Alzheimer's to increase dramatically in the coming years as baby boomers age into their 70s and 80s. The new budget sets aside an additional $400 million for a total of $1.39 billion for Alzheimer's research.

Here are the Republican and Democratic wins in the $1 trillion funding package. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/The Washington Post)

3) Precision medicine: The initiative, announced by Obama at his State of the Union address in 2015, gets an additional $120 million for a total of $320 million in the budget. The idea is to find new ways to tailor treatments to a person's genetics and other individual characteristics to minimize the guesswork in medicine. The government has been recruiting volunteers to share their information for a giant database that could be the basis for this research.

4) Superbugs: A total of $463 million is directed for research into new antibiotics for infections resistant to traditional ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of potentially catastrophic consequences for the world if new medications or other solutions to these pathogens resistant to current antibiotics aren't developed soon. They are such a threat that world leaders held a summit last year to brainstorm solutions.

5) BRAIN: Another Obama-era initiative, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies program, seeks to create a comprehensive guide to the anatomy and functioning of the brain. The budget includes $110 million for efforts to map the human brain.

Separately, the budget deal also increases funding from $150 million to $800 million to battle the nation's opioid epidemic. These funds will go to the CDC and other government groups fighting addiction. According to the latest numbers from the CDC, a record 52,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2015, and 80 percent involved the misuse or abuse of opioids.

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