BETHESDA, Md. (AP) -- Calling scientific research a job-creating engine, President Barack Obama heralded $5 billion in new government grants Wednesday to fight cancer, autism and heart disease while boosting the economy.
Obama described the money as crucial to improving public health and helping add jobs to an economy that has seen unemployment surge. Visiting the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health, he that its projects illustrate the dual goals of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill: rescuing the economy and laying the groundwork for future generations' stability.
"The American people are looking forward to the next set of discoveries that you are working on today," Obama told employees.
The stimulus bill included $10 billion for NIH. Jared Bernstein, who is Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist, said the $5 billion announced Wednesday will support some 12,000 existing projects and create thousands of jobs over the next two years for researchers and educators, as well as for medical equipment makers and suppliers.
Obama called it the "single largest boost to biomedical research in history."
The investment includes $175 million for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) to collect more than 20,000 tissue samples from more than 20 cancers, and determine in detail all of the genetic changes in thousands of these tumor samples.
The cancer study involves more than 150 scientists at dozens of institutions around the country, the White House said in a statement released before Obama took the stage, joined by his Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and his NIH director, Dr. Francis S. Collins.
"We can't know where this research will lead. That's the nature of science," Collins said.
Obama said that was OK, too.
"Some research does not lend itself to quick profit," Obama said, adding the NIH research should focus on the public health, not investors or corporate owners.
The president said "we know that that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector."
"The work you do is not easy. It takes a great deal of patience and persistence but it holds incredible promise" for the United States and around the world, Obama said.
Before making remarks about the grants, Obama and Sebelius toured an NIH oncology laboratory.
"That's a pretty spiffy microscope," the president quipped as he walked through the lab. Researchers allowed Obama to take a look at the brain cells they're studying, explaining the difference between healthy cells and cancerous cells.