Monthly Archives: August, 2012

Bilbray, Reed Argue Now is the Time to Conquer Cancer

A recent editorial in The Washington Times by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and John C. Reed, MD, PhD, chief executive officer of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, makes a parallel between President John F. Kennedy’s call for a lunar mission in 1962 and the future of medical research’s battle against cancer.

In seven years, the authors note, America went from Kennedy’s proclamation to Neil Armstrong stepping out of the lunar module. (The op-ed ran two days before the legendary astronaut’s death.)

Because of our understanding of cancer and the treatments we now have for it, the authors write, we are in a better position to conquer cancer than the space program in 1962. Moreover, they write, we can get there because of four key components:

  • Technology: Advances in DNA sequencing will allow treatments personalized to mutations in the cancer, instead of treating it based on the organ it’s affecting.
  • Food and Drug Administration reform: The authors argue for better and more efficient methods of evaluating drugs. The recently passed FDA Reform Act is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done, they write.
  • Tax reform: In their words, “Few people realize the impact taxes have on investment. We must reform our tax code to encourage investment by the high-tech and life-science industry in research. Along with critically important National Institutes of Health funding, private-sector investment will drive research integral to finding a cure.”

“At a time when Washington finds it difficult to act on bipartisan legislation, the fight against cancer gives us something we can agree to collaborate on rather than fight over,” they write. “Now is the time for President [Barack] Obama to work with the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader and take bold action to combat the cancer challenge.”

Of course, we hope that such bold action happens sooner rather than later. And likely voters think that too: Our most recent polling shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans think the new president should announce initiatives promoting medical progress during his first 100 days in office.

2012 Edition: Research and the AP Top 25

For the college football fans among us, today is like a second Christmas: The season begins tonight. South Carolina’s visit to upstart Vanderbilt is the most notable game on the schedule, as South Carolina is the only ranked team in action tonight.

And so, for the third straight year, we’re happy to present our own little mashup of college football and medical research.

It would be pretty easy to get on a roll about who’s overrated and underrated and what players to watch out for — a temptation we’ve had to force ourselves to stay away from for the past two years. We know our audience: researchers and those who care about research. So, just as we’ve done in the links above, we present some of the interesting research going on at schools ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

We acknowledge, of course, that some of these schools may have greater emphasis in areas other than traditional medical research. But where possible, we’ll highlight recent research from that school that improves health. Schools in italics are Research!America members or have one subunit that is a Research!America member.

1. University of Southern California

USC student Sarmad Al-Bassam, PhD, served as the lead author on a paper that explained what was seen using a new method to see how proteins and transmitted to and from neurons in the brain. Previously, it was difficult to isolate one pathway because there were so many other pathways — many of which overlapped. By itself, the pathway that Al-Bassam and his colleagues captured on video shows a steady stream of incoming and outgoing proteins, not unlike a sped-up video of trucks entering and leaving a warehouse. “Your brain is being disassembled and reassembled every day,” said Don Arnold, PhD, associate professor of molecular and computational biology at USC and a co-author of the paper, according to the school’s press release. “One week from today, your brain will be made up of completely different proteins than it is today. This video shows the process. We’ve known that it was happening, but now we can watch it happen.”

2. University of Alabama

The University of Alabama has made gains against chronic pain in traditional and unexpected ways. William “Skip” Pridgen, MD, a surgeon in Tuscaloosa, AL — where the school is located — has teamed with UA professor Carol Duffy, PhD, to form a startup called Innovative Med Concepts. The company has raised sufficient funding to hold a Phase II clinical trial to test a combination of drugs to treat fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Meanwhile, Beverly Thorn, PhD, chair of the psychology department at UA, is developing therapies around the “gate control theory of pain,” which states that pain is a multidimensional experience, not just a sensory one.

3. Louisiana State University

Given that LSU is only today starting to reopen after waiting out Hurricane Isaac, it makes sense that the effects of hurricanes would be a key facet of the school’s research. Barry Keim, PhD, a professor in the Geography and Anthropology Department, and “Hurricane” Hal Needham, a grad student, put together “the world’s most comprehensive storm surge map.” After all, it’s storm surge — not wind or rain — that is traditionally the most deadly aspect of hurricanes. “When we started this research in 2008, this approach was completely unique,” Needham said in a story on the school’s website. “Modeling is very useful, but you need to validate it with what’s happened historically. That is what we are trying to do here … SURGEDAT is a snapshot of where the most vulnerability from storm surge is located worldwide.”

4. University of Oklahoma

Paul Branscum, PhD, surveyed fourth- and fifth-grade students from throughout the Midwest to get a sense of their diets over the course of a 24-hour period. The results: Students had the most control when choosing snacks, but unfortunately the highest calorie snacks were also the least expensive. The group averaged 300 calories from high-calorie snacks (17% of their daily caloric intake needs) but just 45 calories from fruits and vegetables — roughly equivalent to half a piece of fruit. The information is important, since snacking has been linked to childhood obesity.

5. University of Oregon

How’s this for applied research? Elliot Berkman, PhD, from UO’s Department of Psychology, got volunteers to undergo an MRI while viewing motivational messages to help quit tobacco habits. Based on what Berkman learns, the more effective messages will be deployed when the campus goes entirely tobacco-free this fall. “Some of the messages that ultimately go out in the fall will be part of a neurally informed prevention effort,” Berkman said, according to a story on the school’s website.

6. University of Georgia

Collaboration between Yiping Zhou, PhD, a physics professor, and Ralph Tripp, PhD, of the College of Veterinary Medicine, has led to new nanomaterials that could increase the efficiency and lower the cost of common DNA tests. The two focused on microRNA — short strands of RNA. “MicroRNA-based therapies are under way for many diseases, but progress is confounded by the inherent difficulties in detecting small RNAs with standard techniques,” Tripp said according to a story on the school’s website. The hope is that the new method could help clinicians improve diagnosis of certain cancers and also detect the presence of viruses in tissue.

7. Florida State University

A medical device for premature babies would hardly seem to be the province for a music professor. But Jayne Standley, PhD, has come up with an ingenious idea: the Pacifier Activated Lullaby, or PAL. Whenever a baby sucks on a PAL, a lullaby begins to play; that encourages the baby to suck more and for longer. That leads to more effective feeding and earlier trips home from the hospital. According to the video on the link above, PAL is now available to hospitals throughout the country.

8. University of Michigan

We admit it: We couldn’t help but read an article on UM’s website when we saw the term “insect cyborgs.” And it doesn’t disappoint — not even for those looking for a health angle! Researchers at the College of Engineering came up with a cyborg beetle that could serve as a first responder of sorts in exceptionally dangerous or inaccessible areas. But even with miniaturization, much energy would be needed to power a flying insect cyborg and also operate other instruments onboard. But the researchers found a solution. “Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” said Khalil Najafi, PhD, chair of electrical and computer engineering. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.” Flapping of the wings, for instance, could generate additional energy.

9. University of South Carolina

X-rays are not new technology by any means, but researchers at South Carolina are exploring whether there are applications in areas few people have looked before. Typical X-rays at the doctor’s office are “hard” X-rays, meaning they have high energy. Professor Krishna Mandal, PhD, is looking at whether “soft” X-rays — those with lower energy — could be more a more effective way to develop imaging. “There’s nothing available on the market that covers this range of X-rays,” Mandal told the school’s website. “Nobody has explored this region, and there will be many innovations that will result from our being able to do so, particularly when it comes to medical imaging.”

10. University of Arkansas

Doctoral student Ellen Brune’s research may lead to a significant shortening of the time from bench to bedside. Her research led to an improved way to develop proteins for pharmaceutical uses. By developing custom strains of bacteria that express minimal amounts of “nuisance” proteins, Brune’s work could help pharmaceutical companies stop “spend[ing] too much time and money getting rid of stuff that doesn’t work to get to the stuff that does,” Brune said, according to the school’s website. “Our work addresses this problem. Our cell lines reduce the garbage, so to speak, before the manufacturing process begins.” She’s already founded a company, Boston Mountain Biotech, for the technology.

11. West Virginia University

An intensive, two-county study identified challenges and opportunities in obesity intervention. The three-pronged study looked at availability of healthy foods, built a map to explore the environment as it relates to physical activity, and talked to community members to get their takes on the obesity epidemic. “Prior to this, the environmental factors were not adequately studied and understood,” Elaine Bowen, a health promotion specialist with WVU Extension, told the school’s website. “It was essential that our study interventions are informed and guided by facts instead of researcher assumptions and opinions.”

12. University of Wisconsin

The university’s Institute on Aging is conducting a national longitudinal study by tracing how we age from early adulthood through later life. The study is called MIDUS, or Midlife in the United States. Of particular interest to the study is resilience in the face of adversity; the study has examined people who buck trends identified by previous studies, such as older individuals who show no signs of cognitive impairment. “This maintenance seems to be facilitated by staying mentally engaged as well as by having good social relationships,” Carol Ryff, PhD, director of the Institute of Aging, told the school’s website.

13. Michigan State University

Our bodies are marvels in any number of ways, but they are far from being perfectly efficient. In that regard, MSU researchers came up with some new ideas in an age-old debate: Why do some organisms build tissue that goes unused? Jeff Clune, PhD, likened it to building a roller coaster and then immediately tearing it down to build a skyscraper. By using new technology called computational evolution, Clune — the lead author who is now at Cornell University — and his team were able to study things impossible to be seen in nature. So what did they find? Clune continues the metaphor. “An engineer would simply skip the roller coaster step, but evolution is more of a tinkerer and less of an engineer,” he said. “It uses whatever parts that are lying around, even if the process that generates those parts is inefficient.”

14. Clemson University

For the avowed aviation geeks, researchers and students at Clemson helped a company modify a mobile drill press so that it could more efficiently drill holes into a runway. Why would you do such a thing? To create an overrun area to aid in arresting aircraft and prevent passenger injuries. According to a story on Clemson’s research blog, students reduced the enormous weight of the machine by working on the undercarriage and wheels, as well as some of the internal components.

15. University of Texas

You may remember Research!America’s event in Houston that looked at neglected tropical diseases in Texas. Flu is hardly neglected, but a pandemic is always a major concern. Lauren Meyers, PhD, an associate professor in the Section of Integrative Biology, came up with a model that simulates how a flu pandemic would spread through the state. “While the forecasts will not be exact, they give a rough idea of how many people will be hospitalized around the state and when an epidemic may peak. Such information can lead to more timely and effective control measures,” Meyers said, according to the school’s website. Officials in the state have already put Meyers’ modeling to use.

16. Virginia Tech

Macrophage cells are “the security guards of the body,” so understanding how they defend the good and root out the bad is critically important — especially when things go awry. Liwu Li, PhD; John Tyson, PhD; and Jianhua Xing, PhD, all collaborated to develop a computational model that shows how macrophage cells respond. Studies like this could lay the groundwork for future study that identifies molecules involved in how the macrophage immune response is altered or reprogrammed.

17. University of Nebraska

Fully in the spirit of this post, Nebraska recently convened faculty and members of the school’s athletics department for a discussion on collaborating research. The most obvious area of overlap is with concussions, and indeed that was part of the retreat: A portion of Memorial Stadium, Nebraska’s football field, will be dedicated to the proposed Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior. That addition, however, will also house the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, which will examine technology, nutrition, psychology and learning as areas critical to better performance and health, according to the school’s website.

18. Ohio State University

Now there’s empirical evidence why you shouldn’t text and drive: A study, led by researchers from Ohio State, found that multitasking with two different visual activities reduced performance in both tasks — significantly more than trying to do a visual task and an audio task at the same time. The caveat, of course, is that driving and talking on the phone isn’t a completely safe behavior either. “They’re both dangerous, but as both our behavioral performance data and eye-tracking data suggest, texting is more dangerous to do while driving than talking on a phone, which is not a surprise,” Zheng Wang, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Communication and lead author in the study, told the school’s website.

19. Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State has been selected to design and test unmanned aircraft for the Department of Homeland Security. While the military uses of unmanned aircraft are well known, there are applications domestically as well. “You have a tornado run through an area, you need to find victims very, very quickly,” Jamey Jacob, PhD, a professor of aerospace engineering, told KFOR-TV. “How can you utilize that technology to really help first responders?”

20. Texas Christian University

As you probably know, Research!America is located in Alexandria, VA. We have some farms some miles away, but one thing we don’t have is ranches. Ranches are the province of the Midwest and West, where vast, open plains stretch as far as one can see. TCU has its own Ranch Management program. And that’s pretty darn cool.

21. Stanford University

How appropriate for Silicon Valley: Researchers at Stanford and Intel infused disease-associated proteins on a silicon chip in much the same way they would build a semiconductor. But because of the nature of these proteins, which constantly interact with each other, understanding the whys of those interactions was challenging. By putting them onto a silicon wafer, to analyze thousands of simultaneous interactions. The hope is that it could lead to patient-specific diagnoses and, eventually, more effective therapies.

22. Kansas State University

Thanks to pigs, researchers at K-State could be on the verge of a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer. Pigs with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) are being used to test cancer and cancer therapies. Though tests with SCID mice have been performed, the results have not always translated to humans. But the researchers — Bob Rowland, PhD, and Deryl Troyer, DVM, PhD — believe there may be better luck in studying the pigs.

23. University of Florida

We mentioned insect cyborgs earlier, and faculty at Florida are researching a topic that’s nearly as interesting: nanorobots. These nanorobots could be targeted to particular disease, shutting down the production of disease-related proteins. An earlier test with hepatitis C was successful. “This is a novel technology that may have broad application because it can target essentially any gene we want. This opens the door to new fields so we can test many other things. We’re excited about it,” said Chen Liu, MD, PhD, according to a school press release. Liu, along with Y. Charles Cao, PhD, conducted the research.

24. Boise State University

Boise State recently opened The Kitchen, a building designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary thinking and problem-solving. Entrepreneurs and inventors from the community come by to discuss ideas with faculty. “It’s a place to convene and have the discussions about the unique and optimal commercialization path for various innovations,” Mary Givens Andrews, director for the Office of University and Industry Ventures, said in a story on the school’s website. “We’re advancing ideas, concepts and patents, developing them and moving them along the path, and to do that you need different perspectives along the way, especially industry’s input.”

25. University of Louisville

Researchers at Louisville have devised guidelines to help nurses identify and aid new mothers who are at risk of postpartum depression. The guidelines were put into place at the University of Louisville Hospital. “The hospital policies and procedures are designed to provide perinatal nurses the tools they need to prepare new mothers so they are able to self-monitor for symptoms of depression and know what steps to take if they experience symptoms,” M. Cynthia Logsdon, PhD, who spearheaded the creation of the guidelines said in a school press release.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Reading between the Lines and then Taking Action

Dear Research Advocate,

As you know, the Republican Party Platform was unveiled Tuesday during the convention in Tampa. There are direct references to medical and health research and other statements that — if not explicit — definitely imply the need for such research. We can draw from both to enhance our advocacy efforts.

The following exemplifies the direct and indirect nature of the platform’s embrace of medical and health research:

“We support federal investment in health care delivery systems and solutions creating innovative means to provide greater, more cost-effective access to high quality health care. We also support federal investment in basic and applied biomedical research, especially the neuroscience research that may hold great potential for dealing with diseases and disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. If we are to make significant headway against breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and other killers, research must consider the special needs of formerly neglected groups.”

The platform explicitly supports federal funding for basic and applied medical research, and, if I am interpreting the text correctly, acknowledges the need to address health disparities as part of the nation’s research agenda. This statement also implies the need for health services research (HSR) to devise “solutions” that improve health care access, cost-effectiveness and quality. Unfortunately the House Labor-H appropriations bill precludes NIH funding for health economics research — a key subset of HSR — and virtually zeroes out the budget of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the main funder of HSR. The platform provides advocates fresh talking points as final appropriations decisions are made later this year.

The Republican platform also states: “Even expensive prevention is preferable to more costly treatment later on.” While the rest of the statement focuses on personal responsibility, research plays an undeniable role in effective prevention. Vaccines, the nicotine patch, successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs … all are grounded in research. Advocates can segue directly from the platform to the importance of prevention research at CDC and other agencies … and we should. Three other sections of the platform are noteworthy. It goes hard on the FDA, asserting that it needs significant reform. The platform does not mention funding, but there is a logical connection here. Patient groups, scientists, industry and FDA leaders themselves are all committed to strengthening the agency and are working hard to accomplish just that. Support for FDA reform cannot logically be decoupled from support for FDA funding, a point that must not get lost in the reform debate.

Second, the platform advocates making the R&D tax credit permanent. Bravo!  We should increase and make other improvements to the credit as well.

Finally, the platform opposes embryonic stem cell research. Not a surprise, but a disappointment.  Proponents must keep fighting this battle, drawing strength from the recent court victory in which President Obama’s executive order was once again upheld.

There is much to applaud in the Republican platform when it comes to federal support for both medical and health research. Let’s take that and run with it. In an article that appeared this week in Forbes, John Zogby discusses the results of our recent national poll. He focuses on the exceptional level of agreement between different demographic and ideological subsets of the American population on issues related to health and medical research. We see that reality reflected in many of the planks in the Republican platform. Indeed most of the results from our poll will not surprise you (except, perhaps, the fact that a majority of Americans of all stripes would pay a dollar more per week in taxes if they knew it was going toward medical research), but it’s a fact that most policy makers have not embraced medical progress as a goal worthy of mentioning in campaign speeches or on their campaign websites. Platforms aside, this gives Americans no basis by which to evaluate whether individual candidates will champion or chop research funding and no assurance that they will take medical innovation into account when evaluating policy decisions that could stimulate or stifle it. Your Candidates-Your Health is an important way that candidates can make their opinions known about medical and health research. Advocates can do their part by attending town halls, visiting campaign offices, writing op-eds and letters to the editor, and using these polling results to convince candidates that promoting medical progress should be one of their core missions.

We have our work cut out for us, but we will succeed if we do more than parse the rhetoric — we have to take action!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Turn up the Volume on Sequester

Dear Research Advocate,

As the political conventions get underway, we have further evidence that voters want candidates to make research for health a prominent issue, now and after the election.  Our latest national public opinion poll, conducted a week ago, shows voters want to elect candidates who value and highly prioritize the importance of medical progress. Among the highlights: 90% say it’s important for candidates to address medical research; 59% say elected officials in Washington are not paying enough attention to combating deadly diseases, so much so that 63% say the next president should announce initiatives promoting medical progress in his “first 100 days in office.” And the media is taking notice, with articles covering our new poll in POLITICO Pro, Business Insider, The Hill and Roll Call. Clearly, voters will support candidates who share their commitment to research for health.

In case you missed it, our Your Candidates – Your Health initiative was featured in an advertisement in USA TODAY. If you haven’t already, please reach out to your representatives and feel free to cite the recent ad as another reason for them to participate in the initiative. You can also use our Grassroots Guide to activate your networks via social media or raise awareness with a letter-to-the editor or op-ed.

In past letters, I’ve written extensively about the sequester and its implications for research, yet I am hearing reports that many research stakeholders are just now learning about the seriousness that this threat poses. If we are to effectively fight the sequester, we must ensure that all research stakeholders and the public at large are informed about this issue. The American Chemical Society has produced an excellent video outlining the origins and implications of sequester. We also saw a heartfelt letter to the editor in the Hattiesburg American written from the perspective of a mother, whose son is alive today because of investments in medical research. InsideHealthPolicy.com (subscription only) published a story about how the biomedical research community is uniting to stop the sequester, drawing on one of our statements. In The News & Observer, E. Wayne Holden, CEO of RTI International and Research!America member, writes about the need to reduce the deficit while maintaining our investments in basic and applied research. Nightly Business Report also picked up the story, in a segment emphasizing the impact on NIH and medical research.

As part of our ongoing efforts to convey to Congress the value of investing in research, we’ve just released a new fact sheet – Genomics Research: Transforming Health and Powering the Bioeconomy. This document demonstrates the immense return on investment from the Human Genome Project and features survivor stories that showcase how cutting-edge sequencing technology can save and improve lives. As a member of Research!America, use our fact sheets to convey that research is vital to our quality of life, our economic progress, and our nation’s future. As always, let us know how we can help.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Research!America Press Release: Likely Voters Say President’s “First 100 Days in Office” Should Include Plans for Promoting Medical Progress

As Political Conventions Begin, Voters say it’s Important for Candidates to Address Medical Research

WASHINGTON—August 22, 2012— On the eve of the political conventions, nearly two-thirds of likely voters say the next president should announce initiatives promoting medical progress during his “first 100 days in office,” according to a new national public opinion poll commissioned by Research!America.  And nearly three-quarters of those polled say it’s important for candidates for the presidency and Congress to have a science advisor.  The findings reveal deep concerns among voters about the lack of attention candidates and elected officials have assigned to research.

“Research and innovation, despite its contributions to the nation’s health and the economy, has been given short-shrift by candidates this year – even as funding for research is at high risk in budget discussions,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “This is troubling given the fact that deep spending cuts for government supported research and failure to adopt policies promoting competitiveness could drastically slow the pace of discovery and development at a time when health threats are expanding in many communities.”

Nearly 60 percent of likely voters say elected officials in Washington are not paying enough attention to combating the many deadly diseases that afflict Americans. An overwhelming majority of voters (90%) say it is important for candidates to address medical and health research this year. With concern about health care costs rising, 77% of likely voters say the federal government should fund research to make the health care system more efficient and effective. And despite the tough economy, more than half (53%) are willing to pay $1 per week more in taxes if they were certain that all of the money would be spent for additional research.

“Americans get the importance of medical research.  Without a strong investment in research, we can’t combat disease, we can’t reduce exploding health care costs and we can’t balance our budget,” added Woolley.

Poll highlights include:

  • 68% believe the federal government should increase support for scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge and supports private sector innovation.
  • 60% say medical progress will slip in the U.S. if another country takes the lead in science, technology and medical innovation.
  • 66% say their quality of life has been improved by medical research over last decade.
  • 61% favor expanding federal funding for research using embryonic stem cells.
  • Only 15% know that medical research in the U.S. is conducted in every state.

To view the poll, visit: www.researchamerica.org/nationalpoll2012

Research!America’s national voter education initiative Your Candidates-Your Health, invites candidates for the presidency and Congress to state their views on medical research and related issues.  The brief questionnaire can be found at www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.

The National Public Opinion Pollwas conducted online in August 2012 by JZ Analytics for Research!America. The poll has a sample size of 1,052 likely U.S. voters with a theoretical sampling error of +/- 3.1%.

About us: Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans. Visit www.researchamerica.org.

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From Hope to Cure

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has launched a new initiative which focuses on the myriad benefits of health and medical research, particularly as it relates to patient care.  The initiative, titled From Hope to Cures, uses patient videos as well as statistical evidence and graphics to illustrate how the billions of dollars spent by pharmaceutical companies on research are extending and enriching the lives of millions of people.

This new initiative represents a push for research, progress, and hope.  There are numerous items on the initiative’s website including links to articles ranging from drug discovery and development to a study which predicts substantial growth in the healthcare job industry by 2020.

Although these articles provide useful information about health and medical research as a worthwhile investment, the truly remarkable content lies in the patient videos.  Susan Parkinson, a survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, recounts her tale of doctors immediately identifying the disease after a CAT scan and getting her into chemotherapy treatment within a week.  She credits the chemotherapy and radiation treatments with saving her life and ensuring that she would be around to raise her children.  She also noted that 20years ago, these treatments were not available.  Thanks to the dedicated work of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, Susan will be able to watch her children grow into adulthood.  The video ends with this important message — “981 new medicines and vaccines are currently in development to fight cancer.”

This type of inspirational story becomes even more poignant when considering the potential impact of the automatic spending cuts for federal agencies scheduled to take effect in January 2013.  The loss of funding for medical and health research will greatly affect everyone — scientists, doctors, patients, and the families of those struggling with disease.  As evidenced in Susan’s story, research is ultimately the difference between life and death.

PhRMA, a member of the Research!America alliance, represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical industry research and biotechnology companies.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Romney adds Ryan and healthcare to election conversation

Dear Research Advocate,

With Rep. Paul Ryan joining the Romney ticket, health is back on the national agenda. Partisan politics aside, this conversation is overdue, since health is indeed an issue that will make or bankrupt us. Research has always figured prominently in the wellbeing of Americans and America – research brought an end to the polio epidemic, which could have bankrupted the nation in the 1950s, and research is the only answer to the scourge of Alzheimer’s that threatens health, quality of life and our national checkbook today. And that is just a starting point for the conversation I hope you are having with everyone who wants to talk about the election. Take the opportunity to bridge from health care to health research and remind Americans that research must be a higher priority. As Research!America Chair and former Congressman John Porter has said, “Priorities will be chosen, and money will be spent.” Let’s make sure health research is a top priority.

How much do we know about Rep. Paul Ryan’s position on our issues? One place to start is with Rep. Paul Ryan’s response to our Your Congress – Your Health questionnaire of 2007. In his responses, Rep. Ryan calls for increasing NIH funding and endorses the importance of STEM education, although not federal support for stem cell research. Obviously, the political and fiscal climate has shifted dramatically since 2007, and the “Ryan budget” passed earlier this year by the House could deprive discretionary programs of funding vital to research, (see my comment in Medpage Today).  

The case for research today is in fact stronger than it was five years ago. The Wall Street Journal has published an op-ed by two Nobel laureates, providing a clear and compelling case for the government’s role in fostering basic research — and including research in economics — yielding huge dividends for our health and economy as a whole. Dr. Peter Kohler, Vice Chancellor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has published a piece carrying an equally compelling message in the NWAonline and a terrific op-ed has appeared in the Press Democrat by Dr. Dennis Mangan, a former NIH program director now working as a science communication advisor in Santa Rosa, CA. It would be a privilege to work with you on your own op-ed or letter to the editor making the case for policies that promote continued medical progress.

In past letters, I’ve written about the sequester and its potential for gutting funding for health research. The Coalition for Health Funding, of which Research!America is a member, has released a grassroots toolkit to educate and equip advocates to fight the sequester. Please circulate these tools to your networks and make sure that we stand together against the sequester. Make it a point to engage with candidates while they are campaigning around the nation this month.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Mars today, a cure for cancer tomorrow?

Dear Research Advocate,

American achievement continues to astound. This week we watched NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory send one of the most advanced space exploration vehicles ever constructed to a planet hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth and elegantly deliver it to the planet’s surface. Mars today, why not a cure for our nation’s deadliest diseases tomorrow? As advocates, we cannot take no for answer when it comes to assuring we have the resources, policies and determination we need to defeat disease and disability. Why should we be reluctant to demand that this be a national priority? As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Meanwhile, astounding avoidance of decision-making in D.C. The issues aren’t going away, however. In response to attention driven mostly by the defense community, reporters are picking up the sequestration story, leading the public and policy makers to listen too. On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012, requiring the president to outline how the sequester would be applied across the federal government. By mid-September, we will have a better sense of the specific impact of these across-the-board cuts on federal agencies and research for health. There is little reason to think that research will be exempt from sequestration. So it is dangerous to be either complacent (“sequestration won’t happen”) or discouraged (“we can’t make any difference on this”). I’ve heard both arguments in the past week from members of Research!America; how can it be that there is such a sense of futility and frustration in our community? Consider that Margaret Mead maxim again and reach out to your elected officials with this message: We need cures, not cuts.

Yes we need cures, and we need prevention, too. This is made clear in a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post by Karl Moeller, the executive director of the Campaign for Public Health Foundation. The letter is in response to the recent op-ed about the need for additional research to prevent gun-related injuries, research that CDC has been prohibited from doing. As advocates, we must remind Congress that micromanagement of research, at any level, is a denial of progress.

Denial of the importance of research, is unfortunately, happening all too often. This week, we distributed a press release highlighting an excuse we’ve heard from some candidates about their failure to complete our voter education survey: “I don’t have time” to respond. Patients – indeed all of us – should take exception to that excuse. We must insist that they share their views on research. Patients can’t and won’t settle for less than making research for health a priority. Patient voices can be heard in a compelling new video about why research for health matters. My thanks to our Your Candidates – Your Health partners at the American Heart Association for producing this video montage of heart and stroke survivors talking about the value of research. It is already up on our website. Please take a moment to watch the video and share with your networks. Then create your own, and send it our way!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Research!America Press Release: Maintaining the Momentum of Medical Progress a Low Priority in Many Congressional Campaigns

WASHINGTON—August 7, 2012 —Research!America, a nonprofit advocacy alliance, says too many congressional candidates are minimizing the importance of our nation’s faltering role in fighting deadly and disabling diseases as a campaign issue. Polling indicates that Americans rank medical research a high priority but also shows a majority of likely voters are not aware of their representatives’ views on research.

Some candidates have indicated that they “don’t have time” to fill out a short questionnaire gauging their views on the importance of continued medical progress. Research!America and its partner organizations are calling on candidates to elevate the fight to save lives in their campaigns by participating in the national voter education initiative Your Candidates-Your Health, www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.

The brief questionnaire focuses on the nation’s investment in research and prevention; research as an economic driver; stem cell research; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and other related issues.

“The idea that candidates ’don’t have time‘ to address an issue that literally has life or death consequences for millions of Americans is truly disturbing,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “Federally funded medical research is the catalyst to new, homegrown businesses in research and manufacturing in an economy that clearly needs both. Voters deserve to know where the candidates stand particularly when funding for research is on a downward slope, young scientists are discouraged about their future, and other countries are dramatically boosting their investments in research and development.”

In July, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that flat-funds the National Institutes of Health, eliminates the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and cuts funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 10% in FY13. In addition, funding for federal health agencies is at risk under sequestration – automatic spending cuts to take effect in January 2013.

Deep spending cuts would have a crippling effect on research conducted by universities, academic health centers and independent research institutions across the country. According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 Americans die monthly of heart disease, more than 47,000 of cancer, nearly 11,000 of stroke, more than 6,000 of Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 5,000 of diabetes.

To date, President Barack Obama and dozens of congressional candidates, including incumbents from both parties, have responded to the Your Candidates-Your Health questionnaire. Gov. Mitt Romney has yet to respond. To learn more about the survey and view the responses of candidates, visit www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.

Research!America is the nation’s largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, Research!America is supported by member organizations that represent the voices of 125 million Americans. Visit www.researchamerica.org.

Star Tribune Editorial is on the Mark: ‘A Slackened Commitment to Research Could Not Have Worse Timing’

The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a recent editorial supportive of medical research; though it appeared last week, it’s still worth sharing.

The editorial, “Worst possible time to cut research,” ran July 30.

Medical research is an important topic for Minnesota. In FY11, the state ranked 17th in awards and 12th in funding from the National Institutes of Health, thanks mostly to two organizations.

The University of Minnesota, in downtown Minneapolis, earned 583 NIH awards and more than $264 million in funding. Eighty-five miles to the south, in Rochester, the Mayo Clinic (a Research!America member) earned 370 awards and more than $200 million in funding. The state is also home to a thriving medical device industry (including Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company) and UnitedHealth Group.

Research and health matters to Minnesotans, and that’s reflected in the editorial.

“In the agricultural Midwest, there’s a term for what policy makers are mulling for medical research,” the editorial board writes. “It’s called ‘eating your seed corn’ — a move that brings short-term gain while jeopardizing the future. And while it’s never good policy, a slackened commitment to research could not have worse timing.

“China, Singapore, Great Britain and others are bolstering their financial commitment to life-science research, hoping to wrest away high-tech industries and high-paying jobs. The United States must maintain its lead amid fierce new competition. It also needs the half-million good-paying jobs linked to NIH funding.

“Those funding recommendations represent more than a dollar figure. They reflect a nation’s priorities. Difficult spending decisions must be made, but thoughtless cuts could wind up ‘relegating us to a different place,’ said University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Aaron Friedman. ‘Is that what we want to have happen?'”

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Congress is heading your way – resist the temptation to duck!

Dear Research Advocate,

Just before leaving Washington for five weeks, Congressional leaders Harry Reid and John Boehner announced agreement on a continuing resolution (“C.R.”) to fund the government until March 2013. In what has become routine, appropriations decisions will be deferred far beyond the October 1 beginning of the federal fiscal year. The leaders’ agreement, motivated by the need to avert a government shutdown, would leave NIH, FDA, AHRQ, CDC and the NSF with steady-state budgets, which is at least a better outcome than proposals for cuts pending before the House right now. But don’t take your eye off the ball! All kinds of mischief is possible between now and March, including modification of the measure before Congress votes on it in September, and other detrimental funding decisions driven by the “fiscal cliff.”

The need for a C.R. is the latest signal to the citizenry that our government is dysfunctional. To the research enterprise, it delivers yet another message of instability. As Lilly CEO John Lechleiter reminds us in a recent Forbes article, the U.S. is now ranked second to last among 44 nations in a measure of the ingredients that power technological innovation. Taking a step toward reversing this course, the Senate Finance Committee took action on the R&D tax credit. That said, their proposal is a mixed bag. The credit would be reinstated for 2 years, which is a positive sign in the current budget climate, but none of the needed improvements to the credit would be made. Research!America will be weighing in on behalf of the strongest credit possible, and I hope you will do the same.

As you develop your message to those running for Congress, don’t forget to take a stand against micromanagement of science. A timely reminder of how our society can be hamstrung in coping with a difficult challenge is recalling that the CDC was prohibited, beginning in the late 1990s, from conducting research on preventing gun-related injuries. Take a moment to read a thought-provoking op-ed in The Washington Post by former Congressman Jay Dickey and Mark Rosenberg, president of the Task Force for Global Health. In the wake of the Aurora tragedy, the authors call attention to the need for research on gun-related injuries if we are to formulate evidence-based policies that will save lives.

For all these reasons and more, please take action in August – don’t take a break from the Congress while they are running for election – run right toward them to make our case! I urge you to attend town hall meetings, visit the home offices of your senators and representatives, stop by various campaign headquarters, and make your message heard. Please call me or Ellie Dehoney at 703-739-2577 if we can provide talking points, data or other materials that may be useful in your advocacy or if you just want to brainstorm ideas. I’ve been pounding on the importance of getting candidates on the record – this is absolutely essential to our cause. Please do your part via the Your Candidates – Your Health voter education initiative.

As part of our own outreach to campaigns, Research!America has been working with scientists and patients to produce short YouTube videos that illustrate the importance of  research and to urge campaigns to participate. Take a moment to watch the researcher videos on our new webpage and share them with your networks. Then tape and send us your own! This is an opportunity to participate in “reality” media. And what could be more real than your own story – as a patient, a caregiver, a researcher or an entrepreneur?

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

P.S. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has scheduled a call to discuss the potential impacts of sequestration on funding for science and technology. The call is being held Wednesday, August 8th at 2pm – click here to RSVP.