The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than 12,000 medical research grants worth US$5 billion since 1 September under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The milestone was announced by President Barack Obama yesterday on a visit to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The grants, which are going to research institutions in every state across the US, are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs over the next two years, from support staff and laboratory technicians to database managers and scientists.

Representing around one sixth of the annual NIH budget and one half of the Institute’s Recovery Act funds, the grants are part of an overall Recovery Act investment of US$100 billion in science and technology “to lay the foundation for the innovation economy of the future”, the White House noted.

“This historic investment demonstrates this administration’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of science and turning those discoveries into benefits for the American people,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

“NIH researchers and grantees are already conducting some of the world’s most groundbreaking biomedical research,” she added. “These awards will accelerate our progress towards the new medicines, treatments and cures that will help Americans live longer, healthier lives.”

More than US$1 billion of the grant funding is committed to research using the technology produced by the Human Genome Project between 1990 and 2003. This will enable scientists to sequence over 2,300 more complete human genomes, with applications in cancer, autism, and heart, blood and lung disease.

The genomic research funded under the Recovery Act includes US$175 million for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a collaborative effort led by the NIH to map the genomic changes that occur in major types and subtypes of cancer. Last month TCGA announced that it will map the genomes of at least 20 cancers over the next five years.

Other areas of research that will benefit from NIH grants under the Recovery Act include HIV/AIDS and H1N1 influenza (swine flu).