Chairwoman Kaptur Holds Hearing on Department of Energy’s Role in Advancing Biomedical Sciences
Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, held a Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) role in advancing biomedical sciences. The purpose of the hearing was to highlight the innovative use of DOE’s capabilities in a variety of important health-related fields and underscore opportunities and benefits of better collaboration between DOE and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Chairwoman Kaptur Opening Statement As Prepared For Delivery
Thank you all for coming, and I want to especially thank our witnesses.
We are here to discuss the topic of the Department of Energy’s role in advancing biomedical sciences – a transformational role at the intersection of energy and health. Afterall, all of us are composed of a complex web of neurotransmitters pulsing energy throughout our tissues, organs, and bones every day.
Indeed, the Department’s long history and leadership in supporting basic science has resulted in biomedical innovations and a toolkit of advanced scientific capabilities that can enable future breakthroughs in health research, including artificial neurotransmitters, drug discovery, high-precision imaging to advance precision brain and nerve mapping, diagnostic technologies for cancer detection, and the use of technology to eliminate cancer’s bad cells instead of the good ones.
Let us first focus on the core of human function — the brain. For over three decades, Congress has funded increasingly advanced research on human brain function aimed at discovering and then healing medical conditions that eluded prior generations. Now with advancing technology and the advent of supercomputing, science itself is maturing and combining know-how as evidenced by bioengineering.
Our objective today is to probe where future scientific inquiry might be directed to advance our understanding of human health, such as better comprehension of brain function, and then unravel incompletely understood brain impairments with the objective of healing. If I were to ask the question, what does medical science understand and not understand about varying conditions like bipolar, PTSD, and CTE, what might researchers tell us about physical properties and biologic impaired functions in each?
Although DOE pursues research in areas directly pertinent to the Department’s main missions of energy, environmental stewardship, and national security, basic research undertaken for one purpose often has unanticipated and major impacts in other areas.
That is why it is critical to support basic science research at the Department. In fiscal year 2020, we increased funding to the Department’s Office of Science by 415 million dollars to a record-level 7 billion dollars. This funding is foundational for a new generation of discoveries at the intersection of energy and health. For example, in conducting basic science research for other purposes, Brookhaven National Lab helped pioneer the PET scan technology.
Additionally, while pursuing its mission-driven research, DOE has developed advanced scientific capabilities that can provide unique benefits to the biomedical sciences.
DOE’s X-Ray Light Sources and the Nanoscale Science Research Centers provide special imaging capabilities for the biomedical research community.
The X-Ray Light Sources produce x-rays that are billions of times brighter than medical x-rays and have been used by scientists and pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs and treatments for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancers, diabetes, and the development of new vaccines like the Ebola vaccine. In better understanding how drug molecules interact with human cells, hopefully we can start to understand why some pharmacological treatments work for some patients but not for others. If we could more seamlessly use the scientific capacity of DOE to the medical unknowns, what breakthroughs could our nation achieve?
DOE’s high-performance computing capabilities can also provide solutions to biomedical applications through simulation and modeling, predictive biology through artificial intelligence, and data analytics. Just imagine the computing power and data analytics needed to map billions of brain cells so we can reveal the brain’s neurological and biochemical inner workings.
Through the DOE isotopes programs, the national labs and a network of universities have impressive capacities in producing medical isotopes that are useful in nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.
As we will hear from our witnesses, advances in the science of energy as well as in biomedicine depend increasingly upon integrating many other disciplines with the biological sciences. It was not so long-ago that universities began offering programs in “bioengineering” – two sciences that had remained separated on university campuses for generations.
Given the unique, scientific tools and personnel of the Department of Energy and its national labs, and the potential for future breakthroughs in health-related fields, it seems especially important for the Department of Energy to increase its coordination and collaborations with the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies. This will give the best chances of developing new innovations in biomedical sciences to unlock the hidden mysteries of the human brain, retool the human body when it has been broken, save lives, and sustain life on earth.
Lewis Thomas University Professor
Weill Cornell Medicine
Dr. Mark Chance
Director, Center for Proteomics and Bioinformatics
School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University
Dr. Narayanan “Bobby” Kasthuri
Argonne National Laboratory
Support and funding of basic sciences at DOE has resulted in biomedical innovations and scientific capabilities that can enable future breakthroughs in health research, including drug discovery, brain research, diagnostic technologies, and imaging. Although DOE pursues research in areas directly related to its missions of energy, environmental stewardship, and national security, basic research undertaken for one purpose often has unanticipated and major impacts in other areas. While pursuing that mission-driven research, DOE has also developed a toolkit of advanced scientific capabilities that support application in many areas of biomedical research and can enable future breakthroughs in health research. DOE has recently been working to expand its relationships with NIH to more strategically leverage DOE research capabilities, including imaging, computing, and isotopes.
Examples of Breakthroughs in Biomedical Sciences from the Department of Energy:
- Artificial Retina Project: This project involved six DOE labs working with four universities over 10 years. The project resulted in an FDA-approved device that can be used in humans.
- Medical Diagnostics and Treatment: The field of nuclear medicine was largely pioneered by DOE’s National Labs. This area has a plethora of applications including medical diagnostics, cancer detection, and the use of technology to target cancer.
- Pocket-Sized DNA Sampler: This tool can identify microbes in air, water or soil samples, allowing for a variety of different usages. For example, the device can be used to test for airborne bacteria in a certain location.
- Small Machines: Nano-scale motors that can be used for biomedical applications.
- Cell Sorter: Invented during the 1960s, the cell sorter guides droplets that can be used to study cells. In practical usage, it can be used to study diseases such as cancer.
- Improving Vaccines: A National Labs project utilized nuclear separation to purify vaccines, eliminating vaccines’ side effects. This product has allowed for the production of millions of vaccines.
- Ebola Detection: During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a National Labs project developed a method to detect Ebola more quickly through creating a model of the Liberian blood transport system. In turn, the spread of Ebola was reduced.
- Less Harmful Opioids: An ongoing project to make opioids that can cure pain without the dangers of traditional opioids (dependence and breathing suppression). This project would not be possible without a technology developed by DOE in which intense x-ray beams allow scientists to see individual atoms and decipher its physical structure. In turn, this allows scientists and pharmaceutical companies to optimize drug molecules prior to clinical trials through seeing how cellular receptors react to a drug in the body.