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From Therapy Dogs To New Patients, Federal Shutdown Hits NIH

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The National Institutes of Health is the biggest source of funding for medical research in the world. And the partial federal government shutdown has put it in a precarious position.

Universities and hospitals across the country are grappling with what the NIH shutdown will mean for them.

The NIH also has its own hospital at its main campus in Maryland. It's called the NIH Clinical Center and is dedicated solely to medical research. Patients often go there to receive experimental treatments.

The shutdown has affected the NIH hospital in ways both large and small.

For example, patients were told therapy dogs will no longer be able to come to visit them.

And, the NIH has said, with rare exceptions, it will not enroll new patients in ongoing studies or clinical trials at the center for the duration of the shutdown.

In a normal week, about 200 new people would be enrolled in clinical trials that are testing new treatments for all sorts of illnesses — cancer, serious infections, or rare genetic diseases, for example. Some of those patients are children.

The NIH shutdown is also affecting other medical centers because most of the NIH budget goes out as grants to support researchers and clinicians across the nation. That entire grants program is now closed.

"Any new trial that is awaiting funding, any new grant that is going to be reviewed that involves clinical research, clinical trials ... those things are on hold," says Anne Klibanski, chief academic officer with Partners Healthcare, which runs hospitals such as Massachusetts General, in Boston. Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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