Monthly Archives: November, 2012

World AIDS Day

Each year on World AIDS Day, December 1, the world unites in the fight against HIV. It is estimated that 34 million people around the world are living with HIV and over 25 million people have died from the disease since 1981. The good news is that strong investments in HIV/AIDS research have resulted in remarkable scientific advances such as new prevention tools and drugs that allow individuals to manage their disease. However, there is still much more work to be done and World AIDS Day highlights the need for continued investments in research, education and improved access to treatment. It is also important to raise awareness of another category of diseases that can undermine efforts to eliminate HIV: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

NTDs affect over 1.4 billion people and there is significant overlap between NTD and HIV infection in many areas of the developing world. For example, females with schistosomiasis in Africa have a nearly 3-fold risk of HIV infection. Co-infection with HIV and NTDs like leishmaniasis or hookworm can dramatically worsen symptoms and speed up the progression of HIV to AIDS.

Advances in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment have proven the incredible power of research to save lives and we must not retreat on our progress in the face of scientific advances. Funding for global health research and development that includes the advancement of new and improved tools against NTDs and HIV/AIDS will yield multiple benefits for our health. Smart and steady investments in global health R&D will help us realize our shared visions of a generation free from these debilitating diseases.

-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Cliff diving and appropriations, too

Dear Research Advocate,

Congress is back and there is talk of more stalemate, with support wavering for a deal to avert the fiscal cliff before the end of the year. Speaker John Boehner said early today that “no substantive progress has been made” on negotiations. Amazingly, inaction (going over the cliff) remains a possibility. The more likely scenario is a short-term fix that leaves the major decisions in the hands of the next Congress. In the midst of behind-the-scenes negotiations between congressional leadership and the White House, appropriators are talking about finalizing their bills before the end of the lame-duck session rather than waiting to revisit the current continuing resolution in the new Congress. They would likely use an omnibus appropriations bill, creating a vehicle for funding the damage from Superstorm Sandy. If this scenario plays out — and it’s a long-shot — it is possible that more cuts to research and other discretionary spending will be embedded in the omnibus.

This is yet another compelling reason to get involved now in research advocacy. At every turn in the current policymaking process, biomedical and health research is at risk. If you have not called your senators and congressional representative, now truly is the time. In addition, you can take advantage of the sample materials in our Save Research online toolkit to personalize op-eds, letters to the editor, social media messages and more.

If you do decide to speak up, you will be joining a movement that is gaining traction. For the first time ever, our community has been included in a list in an Associated Press article that features defense and oil and gas interests as those being heard in Washington. Indeed, a broad array of media has been picking up our story.

An op-ed in Politico co-authored by six former CDC directors urges Congress to maintain CDC funding amidst the deficit reduction negotiations. The piece highlights the critical role that CDC plays in protecting public health, citing the recent fungal meningitis outbreak. The directors register concern about a system so tightly constrained that it can’t respond to a crisis without compromising health in other areas. Further cuts would be catastrophic. A similar point about the dangers of compromising key public health capacity was made by Dr. Herb Pardes in an opinion piece in the New York Daily News. This is the time to state your case; tell the media, your elected representatives and anyone who will listen just what is at stake.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

GPB’s “The Future Files” Provides Close-Up View on Biomedical Research

On November 13, a documentary series called “The Future Files” premiered on Georgia Public Broadcasting. Created by the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a Research!America member and partner, the series highlights Georgia researchers working to address some of the most challenging problems facing our world today. The first episode focuses on the threat of influenza and details recent efforts by Georgia scientists to develop a vaccine. Future episodes will focus on issues ranging from new energy to cancer to regenerative medicine.

The pilot episode is designed to bring to life some of the outstanding health research taking place every day in Georgia laboratories. Due to the tireless efforts of GRA and other Georgia-based health organizations, the state has become a key health research hub in the U.S. GRA has worked to expand research capacity at universities, launch new companies and foster the development of 28 nationally recognized Centers of Research Excellence. GRA has even encouraged research on neglected tropical diseases, investing in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD) at the University of Georgia. Researchers at CTEGD are working to develop new treatments for schistosomiasis, African sleeping sickness, Chagas and cysticercosis.

To learn more about this center and other GRA investments, visit http://gra.org/ProgramsInitiatives.aspx. To watch the first episode of “Future Files” online, visit www.gpb.org/future-files and be sure to stay tuned for rest of the series!

To learn more about Research!America’s work in Georgia, please visit www.researchamerica.org/gh_georgia.

Morgan McCloskey, global health intern

Thank your local public health professional today and every day

It started in Tennessee: one patient with an unusual recurrence of meningitis. An infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University worked the case like a detective, tracking down a lead. When the detective work led to an unusual suspect – a possible contamination – the Tennessee Department of Health was promptly notified. And when Tennessee public health specialists feared the contamination might be widespread, they contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In short order, a second federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and most states in the eastern half of the country were working to solve a puzzling fungal meningitis outbreak that affected thousands of people.

Although the outbreak continues, much has been accomplished thus far to protect the public’s health. The contaminated medicines have been recalled, the company that produced them has been closed down, and nearly all of the people who may have been infected have been contacted. The incident serves as a front-page reminder of the critical role that public health professionals play every day.

According to ABC News, the initial diagnosis came from April Pettit, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. A patient she treated for bacterial meningitis was readmitted to her hospital. Pettit ordered more exhaustive testing, which led to a rare diagnosis: aspergillus meningitis, which is caused by a type of fungus. Pettit talked with the patient’s family members to try to discover how such an infection could have taken place.

Soon, she found a possible answer. The patient had received a steroid shot four weeks earlier to relieve back pain. Sensing there could be a connection, Pettit contacted the Tennessee Department of Health.

That contact led to Marion Kainer, MD, MPH, who is in charge of the state’s health care-associated infections prevention efforts. She confirmed the details of Pettit’s patient just as other cases in the Nashville area were popping up. Three days after Pettit’s initial contact with Kainer, the state alerted its health care network about the potential outbreak. As CDC began to accelerate its role – it had been consulted since the beginning – the FDA also became actively involved in the investigation.

On September 27, the CDC – after putting out a nationwide alert – received a report of fungal meningitis from North Carolina. As the picture became clearer, more states became involved and CDC devoted more of its personnel to the investigation.

“In terms of ratcheting up the [CDC’s] response, several things became apparent fairly early on,” J. Todd Weber, MD, the CDC’s incident manager for the response, told Research!America. “One was that this was a true outbreak, not a unique patient experience. Among the possible sources of exposure were several products that had national or near-national distribution. Our investigation made it apparent that there were many thousands of doses of what turned out to be the implicated drug. As we learned more about the outbreak with each passing day, more and more people became involved as part of their daily work here at CDC.”

Because of the urgency of the situation and the large number of people at CDC focusing on the outbreak, the agency decided early on to activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC). While some people may think such a facility is primarily for natural disasters, Weber said the outbreak certainly qualified as a man made disaster. Indeed, the EOC had a crucial role in CDC’s response during the H1N1 pandemic and, had it existed in 2001, would’ve been used for responding to the anthrax attacks, Weber said.

The EOC diverts CDC personnel from their normal duties, so Weber said the decision to activate it is not made lightly. But because of the demands of the outbreak – such as helping states with outreach to thousands of people, pulling together needed CDC experts into a centralized location – activating the EOC early in the fungal meningitis response made sense.

“At the time we activated it, there were over 10,000 people who had been potentially exposed to this infection,” Weber said. “And there was nothing we knew at that point that didn’t suggest that all 10,000 of those people might have become ill.”

Weber noted that one of CDC’s objectives was to support the states during the response, and he believes that mission has been achieved. As an example, CDC has facilitated daily conference calls with all of the 23 states that received shipments of the contaminated steroids, resulting in discussions and exchange of current information among state officials. And CDC supported the states’ efforts to reach hospitals, clinics, professionals and patients who were affected.

The reality is that such large-scale outbreaks are thankfully rare. But CDC collaborates with health departments from across the country on a daily basis. At points during the outbreak, agency officials were in contact with all 50 states to keep them up to date on developments.

There’s still more to be done. Because fungal meningitis was so rarely seen prior to the outbreak, Weber likened it to a new disease; there is virtually no historic clinical information to rely on. CDC continues to focus on learning more about the fungal meningitis and other illnesses linked to this outbreak, and providing interim guidance on how to treat those who have been affected.

“It was all the different parts of public health that really worked here,” Weber said. “It was the front line clinicians; it was the local and state health departments who recognized what was going on; it was them having a federal resource that could reach out across states to share information and coordinate activities in a really flexible manner that made such a difference.”

“We brought together many groups at CDC, including the division responsible for healthcare-associated infections and the division with experts in fungal infections. Our fungal infections laboratory – the mycotics laboratory – [is] normally not at the center of public health attention,” he added. “But if we had not had this specialized laboratory as a resource, our response would have not been as good as it was.”

On Public Health Thank You Day, the fungal meningitis outbreak reminds us of the invaluable contributions of those professionals working behind the scenes to ensure that Americans stay safe. Even if you’ve never heard the term “mycotics,” or “healthcare-associated infections”, it’s good to know that there are people who are experts in these infectious disease threats, and that they’re looking out for us every day.

Every year we celebrate Public Health Thank You Day the Monday before Thanksgiving day. Be sure and thank your local public health professional today and every day.

Learn more here: http://www.researchamerica.org/ph_thank_you

Images from Research!America’s Post-Election Briefing and Garfield Awards

Some group shots from yesterday’s events:

From left, Catherine Tucker, PhD; Research!America Board member Mark McClellan, MD, PhD; and Amalia Miller, PhD. Tucker and Miller are the recipients of the 2012 Garfield Economic Impact Award.

From left, Research!America Board member, Hon. Kweisi Mfume; Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley; National Journal Daily editor Matthew Cooper; and Research!America Chair Hon. John Edward Porter.

From left, Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley; National Journal Daily editor Matthew Cooper; Research!America Board member and chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Alan Leshner, PhD; and Research!America Chair John Edward Porter.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Week of Advocacy Underway

Dear Research Advocate,

With a stellar team of advocates from across the research community, we have been blitzing Capitol Hill this week with our message that we need cures, not cuts. Research!America and our partners have participated in more than 60 meetings with Members of Congress, including key leadership and their staff. My thanks to the 140+ groups that signed on to our community letter to congressional leadership. Many partners have activated their grassroots to join the call Congress day, and there is still time to join the In-District Drop-In day (today) and a social media push on Friday. We also encourage you to keep up the drumbeat with emails and phone calls to Hill offices. Beltway media have taken notice of our ads and the coordinated activity, with articles appearing in The Hill and National Journal.  

Based on our meetings this week, the message is definitely getting through that across-the-board cuts or more stringent caps on discretionary spending would hurt our nation far more than help it. But it was also clear that continued, outspoken advocacy is crucial. No option is off the table, and that means we must keep making the case. Staffers told us that providing concrete examples to illustrate what’s at stake is crucial, and no community is better equipped to drive the point home than ours. We saw that yesterday, when, for example, leaders of the Society for Neuroscience gave concrete examples of research at risk, and when advocates from the Parkinson’s Action Network who are living with this incredibly challenging illness described what stalled progress means for them. I am certain – 100% certain – that their advocacy influenced influential people.

The need for many more of us to engage was the message in the lead editorial in Science I co-authored with Research!America Board member and CEO of AAAS, Dr. Alan Leshner. In the editorial, we urge scientists not to stand back, but to speak up for research and make it clear to Congress that “No Science = No Growth,” quoting the words of former NSF Director Neal Lane. Research!America Chair The Hon. John Porter penned a letter to the editor expanding on Lane’s recent op-ed in The New York Times, reminding readers that research dollars are distributed based on peer review to every state and nearly every congressional district in the country. He calls on the lame-duck Congress to overcome partisan divides and step up now to prioritize research.

This afternoon, we are holding our post-election forum and award ceremony for the 2012 Garfield Economic Impact Award at AAAS. We’ll hear from Research!America Chair John Porter, Congressman Mfume, Dr. Mark McClellan and Matthew Cooper of the National Journal Daily. We will be reviewing what we learned about areas of common ground in the Congress from responses to our voter education initiative, Your Candidates-Your Health, and discussing advocacy strategies going forward. View full event details here and join us if you are in DC.

I was saddened to learn of the death of former Congressman Joe Early (D-MA). Rep. Early served for nearly 20 years, championing funding for NIH on the Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee, and at every other conceivable opportunity. He was an ardent supporter of Research!America in its start-up phase. We extend our sympathies to his family on their, and the nation’s, great loss.

Monday next week is Public Health Thank You Day, our annual salute to the unsung heroes of public health who keep us safe in so many ways. Please take a minute on Monday of Thanksgiving Week to do a shout-out to people you know who are making a big difference for health. Check out this link for details. And do enjoy Thanksgiving.  My letters will resume on Thursday, November 29.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Authors of Groundbreaking Study on Reducing Infant Mortality with Electronic Health Records Receive the 2012 Garfield Economic Impact Award

Alexandria, VA –November 15, 2012–The authors of a landmark study on the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) to reduce infant mortality will receive the 2012 Garfield Economic Impact Award. Amalia R. Miller, PhD, and Catherine E. Tucker, PhD, are being honored for their paper, “Can Health Care Information Technology Save Babies?” The award, presented by Research!America, recognizes economists whose work contributes to our understanding of the ways in which medical and health research – and new, research-based technologies and treatments – impact the economy. The award is supported by a grant from Merck & Co., Inc.

The study, published in Journal of Political Economy, provides solid evidence that creating an electronic rather than a paper interface between patient information and health care providers reduces neonatal mortality. They further demonstrated that the cost of EMRs used for this purpose is minimal when measured against the societal benefits.

“The research that underlies increasingly sophisticated health IT, including electronic medical records, is an important facet of research for health. We applaud Drs. Miller and Tucker for demonstrating in such concrete terms the value of research-based EMRs in meeting a crucial societal goal,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO, Research!America. “Further, by demonstrating the modest cost of the use of the technology per life saved, they have made a strong economic case for investing in the research to develop similar health care tools.”

The findings are particularly important given that the U.S. has struggled for years to reduce infant mortality rates, according to the paper. Each year, 18,000 babies die in the United States within their first 28 days of life. According to the authors, this high rate of neonatal mortality means that the United States is ranked 43rd in the world and lags behind 24 of the 27 members of the European Union.

“Evaluating the cost effectiveness of medical innovation in actual practice has been challenging,” said Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, director, Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform, Brookings Institution, and a Research!America Board member. “This important research uses creative methods to overcome the challenges and provide important new evidence on cost effectiveness of electronic medical records.”

Using a 12-year county-level panel, the authors found that EMRs reduced neonatal mortality by 16 deaths per 100,000 live births. The authors credit this decrease to the fact that EMRs facilitate fast and accurate access to patient records, which improves diagnosis and patient monitoring.

Miller and Tucker will be honored at a reception at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) building in Washington, DC, on Thursday, November 15, 2012. The reception is preceded by a post-election panel discussion about the outlook for medical research and innovation.

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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Research!America and Partners Salute Public Health Heroes as Recent Health Threats Affect Many Communities

Public Health Thank You Day, November 19, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC—November 15, 2012—On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Research!America and leading U.S. public health organizations  recognize public health professionals who work tirelessly every day to protect the health of all Americans.

Public Health Thank You Day 2012 honors all those unsung heroes who keep our drinking water safe and air clean, develop vaccines, track and contain deadly illnesses  and aid victims of devastating natural disasters. These everyday heroes include health inspectors, environmental health scientists, public health researchers, sanitation workers and many other dedicated workers.

“In recent weeks, the nation’s public health response has been put to a tremendous test. First, with the multistate meningitis outbreak that resulted in both illnesses and deaths, followed closely by Hurricane Sandy, which had a devastating impact on much of the Northeastern United States,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas R. Frieden MD, MPH. “These public health emergencies highlight the dedication of our public health heroes and responders.  As we observe Public Health Thank You Day, I am deeply grateful for their commitment, preparedness and constant vigilance to stand ready to keep our nation safe from public health threats.

In the recent meningitis outbreak, the CDC played a critical role identifying possible sources of contamination, tracking cases and communicating updates to citizens. During the height of Hurricane Sandy, the CDC provided emergency assistance and medical care to those affected, including food and water, medical supplies to prevent and treat injuries, clean-up and sanitation and mental health resources.

“On this special day let’s thank all of those heroes who work nonstop in often perilous conditions to ensure the health and well-being of their neighbors and all Americans,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “As we recover from the meningitis outbreak and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, more than ever we see the value of a strong investment in public health. American taxpayers get their money’s worth from supporting the CDC and its initiatives to fight and prevent health threats.”

Research!America’s Public Health Thank You Day partners include the Campaign for Public Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, Association of Schools of Public Health, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, National Association of County & City Health Officials, and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.

Organizations wishing to celebrate Public Health Thank You Day can find downloadable web banners and ads, communication tools, poll findings and a Facebook group at www.publichealththankyouday.org.

Research!America is the nation’s largest not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority. Founded in 1989, it is supported by member organizations that represent more than 125 million Americans. For more information, visit www.researchamerica.org.

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November 14 is World Diabetes Day

Each year on November 14, the International Diabetes Federation sponsors World Diabetes Day to raise awareness about the global burden of the disease. Although diabetes is historically associated with more affluent countries, diabetes rates are rising around the world. In 2000, about 170 million people had diabetes. Today, WHO estimates that diabetes affects more than 346 million people and about 70% of these individuals live in low- and middle-income countries. It is important to raise awareness of this growing burden and the links between diabetes and the infectious diseases that plague the developing world.

Infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases are endemic in several developing regions and affect millions of individuals every day. Any of these diseases can be devastating on their own, but recent studies point to the additional hazards of suffering from an infectious disease and a noncommunicable disease like diabetes. For example, individuals with diabetes who contract dengue fever have a much greater risk of developing severe (and potentially fatal) symptoms. Similarly, studies at the University of Texas have shown that individuals with diabetes have an increased risk of contracting tuberculosis.

Because dual infections are a significant health concern, more research is necessary to better understand the relationship between noncommunicable and infectious disease. Future research funding for either disease could have broad and unexpected applications. For example, diabetes research could yield additional insight into severe dengue fever or tuberculosis research might advance an understanding of diabetes. On World Diabetes Day, we must not only raise awareness of global burden of diabetes, but of the need to prioritize research to combat it and related infectious diseases.

-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern

Climate Change May Increase Threat of NTDs in the U.S.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy has prompted a renewed discussion about climate change. Political leaders and climate scientists alike have raised concerns about the relationship between global warming and an increase in the number of extreme weather events. In addition to these concerns, climate change may also increase the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) here in the U.S. NTD transmission depends heavily on environmental conditions and warming temperatures may increase the severity or change the patterns of these diseases.

For example, funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, researchers at Texas Tech determined that climate change will allow dengue to thrive in the U.S. Historically found only in tropical regions, rising temperatures will allow the range of dengue-infected mosquitoes to shift north, increasing the risk of dengue within the continental U.S. We may already be seeing the first evidence of this shift – three cases of dengue fever have been reported in Florida in the past few weeks. Similarly, climate change is one suspected culprit in this year’s West Nile outbreak, as CDC officials note that unusually warm weather in 2012 may have played a role.

However, additional research is necessary to fully understand the impact of climate change on the range and transmission of NTDs. Even experts in the field have called for more research into the issue, arguing that “not enough attention is being paid to climate change in relation to NTD control.” They recommend improving NTD surveillance systems and increasing investment in field research, which will not only allow for the establishment of more effective NTD control programs worldwide, but will help the U.S.  better understand and protect against these diseases here at home.

-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern

Public Health Thank You Day

Did you get a flu shot this year? Donate blood or give your time to health services? You are part of keeping our communities healthy, so thank you! In addition to your efforts, there are public health heroes around the county working tirelessly to protect our health each and every day. Even during the apogee of Hurricane Sandy, public health workers were providing emergency assistance and medical care to those affected. Please join Research!America and other leading public health organizations on November 19th, the Monday of Thanksgiving, to recognize the outstanding work of these public health professionals. To learn more about Public Health Thank You Day, please visit http://www.researchamerica.org/ph_thank_you or like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/PHTD1.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: The $6 billion dollar election

Dear Research Advocate,

By far the most expensive, and arguably one of the most divisive, election seasons in history is behind us. A lot of money was spent to find out that Americans continue to hold divergent views on many issues. We heard very little about research during the election because, in most ways, it is not a divisive issue; support is both bipartisan and grounded in common sense. The problem is that it can be taken too much for granted. At a time when Americans are looking for an end to standoff politics and want action on things we can feel good about as a nation, prioritizing research for health can be the perfect healing issue — something we can all be proud of. But let’s be clear: Action to prioritize research will only happen if we speak out to put it in the spotlight as policy makers regroup to address the fiscal cliff. We need to convince policy makers that prioritizing research is the smart thing to do as well — smart for job creation and to drive the economy, smart for assuring our global competitiveness, smart for patients, and smart for maximizing innovations that will save lives and drive down the cost of health care.

We must unite and speak with one voice that we need cures, not cuts! If you are not already on board our week of advocacy November 12-16, I encourage you to add your organization to our list of partners and engage your networks to participate in the various strategies that are planned, including a call-in day, a day for visits to district offices, an email-in day, and a Hill day entailing visits to a number of DC offices. All these strategies are supported by an inside-the-Beltway advertising campaign designed to get maximum attention. Click here to see the latest schedule of events for the week ahead. If you would like to sign up for the Hill day, have other events that you would like to include in the calendar, or would like more information, contact Ellie Dehoney at edehoney@researchamerica.org. As an important part of this effort, we are circulating a sign-on letter urging Congress to prioritize research in a deal averting sequestration or any other plan for addressing the deficit. Read the full letter here, and contact Jordan Gates at jgates@researchamerica.org for an updated list of cosigners and/or to sign on. The deadline is fast approaching — be sure to sign today!

Post-election, it is instructive to take a look at the responses of various candidates who responded to Your Candidates–Your Health, our voter education initiative. I recommend taking a quick look at President Obama’s responses here, noting his commitment to doubling funding for federal research agencies. As a sampling of other responses take a look at those of Rep. Dr. Dan Benishek (R-MI), who held his seat, here. In Massachusetts, Joe Kennedy won a seat in the 4th District – judging from his responses here, he will be one of our new champions. Medical research champion Brian Bilbray (R-CA) is locked in a not-yet-called election in San Diego. For more on what this election means, be sure to attend our post-election event on November 15th.

I have had the chance to talk about the post-election prospects for research as they impact all the elements of the research enterprise on BioCentury This Week. This program can be viewed here. Maybe you will watch it with a copy of the latest (tomorrow’s) issue of Science magazine in hand. In the lead editorial, AAAS CEO Dr. Alan Leshner and I urge the science community — as individuals as well as through their institutions and associations — to speak out now to Congress or face the decline of research in this nation. This is not a time to hold back! As you reach out, make use of resources on the website for the Week of Advocacy, www.saveresearch.org, including op-ed and letter-to-the editor templates, sample tweets and a new fact sheet on the economic impact of NIH. There are also links to many extraordinary resources produced by FASEB, UMR, AAAS, Ad Hoc and many other organizations. We thank you all for uniting in saying to Congress and the administration: WE NEED CURES, NOT CUTS!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Public Health Heroes Save Lives in the Meningitis Outbreak

On October 31st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported new cases of fungal meningitis in Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Virginia, bringing the total to 368 cases in the recent outbreak. This form of meningitis, which has been linked to contaminated steroid injections, is a serious disease that infects the brain and spinal cord. In the face of this tragedy, public health agencies and professionals have coordinated an excellent emergency response to the outbreak.

The CDC responded quickly, identifying possible sources of contamination, tracking cases and communicating updates to the nation. CDC experts and local public health workers have been working day and night to alert clinics and patients that may have received the contaminated medication. Through this diligence, over 97% of patients have already been contacted and experts are now working to identify individuals at greatest risk for infection. Because meningitis can be fatal, local public health workers are saving lives through early recognition of symptoms and appropriate treatment.

Despite the critical role played by CDC and the increasing demands it faces due to congressional mandates, funding for this agency has declined in recent years.  And unless policymakers change course, CDC will be swept up in dramatic, across the board budget cuts known as “sequestration.”  If these cuts go into effect, they will severely compromise CDC’s capacity to protect the public health. As it stands, limited funds make it far more difficult to respond to public health emergencies like the meningitis outbreak and mean that a majority of the work falls to smaller and smaller groups of dedicated individuals. These public health heroes must be recognized for their unflagging commitment to protecting the health of Americans. The Monday of Thanksgiving, Public Health Thank You Day, is the perfect opportunity to give thanks to these individuals and others around the nation. To learn more about PHTD, please visit http://www.researchamerica.org/ph_thank_you or like our PHTD Facebook page.  And to join other advocates fighting against sequestration, visit http://www.saveresearch.org.

 

Why Scientists Should Embrace Political Advocacy

In an October article from Cell magazine (subscription required), Yale biologist Thomas D. Pollard, MD, explains his views on “why all scientists should feel obligated to do their part to support the community by advocating for the benefits of government investments in scientific research and training.”

Pollard illustrates how the political climate has changed in the past decade. No longer can scientists leave the advocacy to others in favor of lab work. That shortsightedness could have potentially disastrous effects on funding for a lab or institution.

The fact is that, as Pollard states, “weak tax revenues and growing deficits have led politicians to compromise funding for research in spite of the established benefit of basic research for stimulating economic growth.” The scientific community “must take responsibility to convince politicians that funding biomedical research will benefit not only human health, but also our economic well-being.”

Advocacy is particularly important due with government funding for scientific research in jeopardy with pending across-the-board budget cuts under sequestration. It is vital that scientists take the time to communicate with policy makers. In the past, Members of Congress such as Research!America Chair John E. Porter or the late Sen. Arlen Specter used their influence on Capitol Hill to champion funding for research. But it’s time for a new generation of politicians willing to speak on behalf of scientists.

Finally, Pollard notes several obligations of scientists which will enable successful advocacy both locally and in Washington. Those obligations include joining a professional society with an advocacy program and participating in their grassroots efforts. Scientists should also visit their representatives to explain how science is important to both individuals and communities at large. Finally, scientists should let their elected officials know about the funding of grant applications, whether by thanking them when a grant is funded or by explaining the impact of the lack of funds. These steps will help to promote science as a valuable cause for better health and economic prosperity.

Pollard’s article should serve as a wake-up call to scientists who believe that their funding will remain stable or increase without a significant effort on their part. Scientists must educate lawmakers about the benefits of biomedical and health research and step up efforts to find new champions for the research enterprise.

A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: “No science; no growth”

Dear Research Advocate,

Sandy was a terrifying October surprise. The devastation in New York and New Jersey is extensive, and it will take a long time to rebuild and to heal. It’s a reminder that not everything is about the election. That said, it is impossible not to think about a major election theme — the role of government — and also to think about climate change, one of many science topics not being discussed in this election season. Yet decisions involving the future of science will be made by those elected. That’s why we need to turn up the advocacy volume as loud as possible after the election, when the lame-duck Congress and the administration, closely watched and influenced by those who are elected November 6, will work on a “grand deal” to avert the fiscal cliff. Even if nothing substantive is decided until the first quarter of 2013, the groundwork will be laid when the lame-duck Congress returns on November 13. Will you be heard then?

We are saving a virtual seat for you during the November 13-16 joint Week of Advocacy. Please join the growing list of partners working to make the biomedical and health research community’s Week of Advocacy a success — learn more on our conference call on Friday (details below) and/or contact edehoney@researchamerica.org to become a partner. As you will see at www.saveresearch.org, we have produced an Advocacy Toolkit with a variety of resources including op-ed and LTE templates, editable scripts for phone calls to congressional offices, messaging points, social media messages, and a grassroots alert.

***A conference call about the Week of Advocacy will be held on Friday, November 2 at 3 p.m. EDT. Please dial in at 877-355-0068, using the code 64054826. We need your ideas and your participation — please join the call. RSVP to alefever@researchamerica.org. ***

“No science; no growth.” This was the message of an important op-ed in The New York Times by Dr. Neal Lane, professor at Rice University, former NSF director and science advisor to President Clinton. Follow Dr. Lane’s lead and write an op-ed or letter to the editor for publication during our Week of Advocacy!

Science has not, in fact, been growing, explaining in part why the economy is so sluggish. Last week, we released our annual U.S. Investment in Health Research report. It has garnered widespread and continuing news coverage inside and outside the Beltway. For a glimpse of how this report helps make the local case, see a story from Examiner.com that explores how dwindling NIH funding could impede plans for economic growth in Alabama. The Burrill Report is also covering the report in a podcast that will be available Friday at this link. Clearly, cutting funding for research is not in the best interest of the nation overall, or of states looking to power local economies with biotech research and innovation. No one wins if science is cut!

Be sure to vote!

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley