Fat Stacks: The Unmitigated Success of Government Metabolic Health Research

Obesity research in America is primarily funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A brief history of the institute:

President Truman signed the Omnibus Medical Research Act into law on August 15, 1950, to establish the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases ( NIAMB), the precursor to NIDDK. The name was changed in 1972 to the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Diseases (NIAMDD). To represent a new focus on diabetes the Institute opened its first Diabetes-Endocrinology Research Center in 1973. In 1975, the National Commission on Diabetes delivered a report titled “Long-Range Plan to Combat Diabetes” to Congress, detailing their recommendations for diabetes treatment and prevention. These recommendations were for increased funding and coordination of diabetes research programs, and the establishment of the National Diabetes Board.

Nobel Prizes awarded to NIDDK grantees:

1959: Arthur Kornberg – Synthesis of nucleic acid

1968: Marshall Nirenberg – Partial cracking of the genetic code

1972: Christian Anfinsen – Protein structure is determined by residue sequence

1976: Baruch Blumberg – Work on hepatitis B protein “Australia antigen”

In 1977, 5 institutions jointly received $5 million to establish “Diabetes Research and Training Centers.” The National Diabetes Data Group was created later that year, and in 1978 the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse was formed for dissemination of diabetes information to the public.

1977: Roger Guillemin and Andrew Shally – Brain production of peptide hormones

The Institute was renamed the National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIADDK) in 1981. The name NIDDK was arrived at in 1986 as The Institute’s Division of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases broke off as a separate entity.

The National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity was created in 1991 by the NIDDK Advisory Council and tasked with guiding clinicians about obesity treatment and prevention using a synthesis and critical analysis of the current obesity scientific literature. The first Obesity/Nutrition Research Centers were established the following year.

1994:  Martin Rodbell and Alfred Gilman – Discovery of G-proteins

The NIDDK absorbed the NIH Nutrition Coordinating Committee and its responsibilities in 1993. In 1997, The National Diabetes Education Program was jointly created by the NIDDK and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This program’s goals were to reduce the diabetes rate and its comorbidities. An Office of Minority Health Research Coordination was opened in 2000.



2003: Peter Agre – Discovery of aquaporins

2004: Richard Axel – Discovery of odor-detecting receptors

2004: Irwin Rose and Avram Hershko – Ubiquitin-mediated intracellular protein degradation

2007: Oliver Smithies – Embryonic mouse transgenic manipulation

2010: Jeffrey Friedman and Douglas Coleman – Discovery of leptin

2011: Bruce Beutler and Jules Hoffman – Activation of innate immunity

2012: Robert Lefkowitz – Work on protein receptors to outside signals

2013: James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof – Regulation of vesicular transport

There isn’t much historical budgeting information on the NIH website, but the 2008 budget was $1.716 billion. In 2010, research in diabetes, endocrinology, and metabolic diseases was awarded $640,444,000 from the NIDDK. The 2014, 2015, and 2016 budgets were, respectively, ~$1.745, $1.749, and $1.788 billion. Measured in dollars spent, the success of the NIDDK outstrips that of any health organization past or present.

A few more Nobel-recognized discoveries like aquaporins and G-proteins and we will have obesity and metabolic syndrome licked. Imagine where the obesity and diabetes rates would be if these multi-billion dollar government research expenditures had not been undertaken year after year.

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