A Medical Device Daily

Health and Human Services (HHS; Washington) Secretary Mike Leavitt reported plans to award 105 new health center grants totaling more than $63 million. The grants will help an estimated 632,000 Americans, including many without health insurance, obtain comprehensive primary healthcare services, the agency said.

Awards to 17 of the grantees will be made in May. The additional 88 grants will be awarded on or about Dec. 1 as FY06 funds become available, HHS said.

The grants continue President George Bush's five-year initiative to help communities across the country create or expand access to comprehensive primary healthcare services. Launched in 2002, the initiative will add 1,200 new and expanded health center sites and increase, by 2006, the number of people served annually from about 10 million to 16 million.

Since 2002, including those new grants, HHS has funded more than 700 new or expanded health centers and increased the number of patients served annually to an estimated 13.2 million.

"The president's initiative has greatly expanded the capacity of health centers over the past three years," Leavitt said. "As a result, almost 3 million additional Americans now have access to healthcare services. These grants build upon those efforts and will extend the healthcare safety net to more Americans."

Health centers deliver preventive and primary care services to patients regardless of their ability to pay. Almost 40% of the patients treated at health centers have no insurance coverage, and others have inadequate coverage. Charges for healthcare services are set according to income.

HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration manages the Consolidated Health Center Program, which funds a network of more than 3,600 clinics comprised of community health centers, migrant health centers, healthcare for the homeless centers and public housing primary care centers.

Metabolon (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina), focused on the application of metabolomics to discover biomarkers, reported receiving a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS; Bethesda, Maryland) to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The award, the amount undisclosed, is part of the Small Business Innovation Research program administered by the National Institutes of Health (also Bethesda).

Metabolon said this is its third grant in the area of ALS. The first grant was awarded in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston) and was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The second grant was funded by The ALS Association and focused on cerebral spinal fluid.

"It is clear from the receipt of our third grant that Metabolon's technology has great potential to discover novel biomarkers for the diagnosis and treatment of ALS," said Dr. John Ryals, president and CEO of Metabolon.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neurodegenerative disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Metabolon will test plasma samples obtained from patients using its metabolomics technology to identify ALS biomarkers. Those biomarkers will be compared to those of other motor neuron diseases to determine if the ALS signature is unique or common to other motor neuron disorders. In addition, Metabolon will study how ALS biomarkers change with disease progression.