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GAO assesses dental research funding

May 05, 2014

By Craig Palmer

Washington—Government auditors relate chronic dental disease to funds allocated for dental research in a report requested by Congress to inform the annual appropriations process.

Untreated dental caries is the fourth most prevalent disease/condition for adults and fiscal year 2013 funding for dental/oral and craniofacial disease was $480 million by one fresh but imprecise measure, the GAO told Congress.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee responsible for crafting  the nation’s biomedical research budget, requested the GAO “performance audit” of research funding related to diseases and health conditions that are the leading causes of death or the most prevalent chronic conditions.

The April 23 GAO report is based on a sophisticated text data mining system developed for the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data and combined in a way that gives congressional appropriators a fresh look at funding allocations for various research, condition and disease categories.

It offers congressional appropriators a CDC ranking of diseases and conditions alongside fiscal year 2013 funding for the corresponding NIH Research, Condition and Disease Categorization category. The computer-based text-mining tool recognizes words and phrases in project descriptions to assign NIH projects to any of 237 applicable “closest match” categories such as untreated dental caries to the broader dental/oral and craniofacial disease category.

The National Institutes of Health does not budget by disease category but rather by its 27 institutes and centers, each of which is charged with a specific mission and generally focused on a specific disease, a particular organ or a stage in life. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which provides the lion’s share of funding for research to improve dental, oral and craniofacial health, had a FY 2013 budget of $386,873,540, somewhat less than the $480 million estimate developed for the House Appropriations Committee.

The RCDC system displays the annual support level for dental/oral and craniofacial disease research and for 12 other CDC-ranked diseases and conditions based on grants, contracts and other funding mechanisms across the National Institutes of Health and includes dental research supported by other institutes and centers. NIH officials told government auditors that the RCDC was not designed to be able to estimate a total, non-duplicated amount of funding specific to a given disease or condition because RCDC categories are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. But combined with the CDC data, it gives congressional appropriators a new look at research funding related to disease and health condition.

The NIH Funding Report, GAO-14-490R, is available at GAO.gov.