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Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingrich and Neuroscience

At the Concord Monitor, Molly A.K. Connors notes that Newt Gingrich has introduced a new subject into presidential debate:
Pay attention at just the right moment, though, and you'll hear former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich throw out a phrase that none of his competitors do: brain science.

It is an umbrella term Gingrich uses to refer to the research and understanding of illnesses ranging from Parkinson's to autism, and it's an issue that hits Gingrich, 68, close to home.

"My mother had bipolar disease, and I'm as interested in the whole issue of mental health, which is all brain-science related," Gingrich said in a recent interview with the Monitor. "You realize, for example, the impact of depression, which is a major undercurrent of our health problems. So if you could just understand depression, biologically, the savings would be enormous."


n a recent interview, Gingrich narrowed the list to four things he thinks need to be done to address the costs of Alzheimer's in particular and brain-related disorders in general. Some of them overlap with points he regularly makes while campaigning.

• Set up a public-private partnership that funds brain science independent of the regular federal budget.

Gingrich said creating the public-private partnership would allow a more effective conversation with researchers to find out "the maximum they can invest practically," instead of the current system, which allocates to scientists only what "the politicians" will give them.

No one affected by or working in the area feels the disorders receive enough research money. The National Institutes of Health spends about $150 million annually on autism and about $160 million on Parkinson's. Compare that to, for example, breast cancer, on which NIH spends more than $700 million annually.


• Reorganize the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is the part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services charged with medical research and "making important discoveries that improve health and save lives." It spends about $31.2 billion annually, according to its website, but it doesn't dispatch that money effectively enough, Gingrich said.


• Reorganize the Food and Drug Administration.

With a budget of about $1 billion, the Food and Drug Administration is charged with approving any new drug or other treatment for disorders such as Alzheimer's, autism and Parkinson's. But the process has become too slow, Gingrich said.

"The analogy I use is the iron lung, which disappeared because of the polio vaccine. In 1950, there were 60,000 people who died of polio," Gingrich said. "Now here's the fascinating thing. (Jonas) Salk develops this vaccine, he gives it to his own family to prove it's safe. The following year, (1.4 million) volunteers take the vaccine and the year after that the whole country's vaccinated," he said.

• Eliminate the capital gains tax.

Gingrich proposes eliminating the capital gains tax to enable entrepreneurs to invest their profits in ventures that could treat or prevent brain-related illnesses.
See earlier post on Gingrich, brain science, and the debates