Everyone understands that it’s necessary to take a hard look at the federal budget and cut costs. The problem with the sequestration is that it recklessly cuts every category of spending across the board at a time when we should maintain critical investments that will pay for themselves in the long run.
One of my roles at the University of Pittsburgh is to advocate for federal investment in biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which administers grants to scientists around the country. About 80 percent of all funding for medical research in American universities comes from the NIH. One quarter of NIH funding is for research that leads directly and quickly to improved health care and is aimed at answering important questions like whether hormone replacement therapy is safe and effective for all post-menopausal women. Another 55-60 percent is for basic science research to understand biology at the cellular and molecular levels, research that, while often taking years to bear fruit, time and again yields unexpected discoveries—especially ones that lead to drugs and vaccines—with profound implications for human health.
To consider NIH-funded research only as an expense is to completely misunderstand its purpose. The federal government has long supported biomedical and behavioral research because it’s a wise investment that pays great dividends for all Americans. In addition to improving health and the quality of life, scientific advances spur the economy as private enterprise takes on the commercialization and implementation of our discoveries. A report by the nonpartisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation recently estimated that sequestration cuts to science would reduce the GDP by $200 billion over the next few years.
Sequestration was designed to be a nonsolution—a fate so objectionable and threatening to both political parties that it would force compromise. Sadly, it will likely do what it was designed to do—have devastating and crippling effects on our nation for years to come. Though compromise is still possible, time is short. Unless the president and Congress achieve a mutually agreeable solution that alleviates the worst of these effects in the coming days and weeks, Americans will be robbed of the very significant economic gains and the better and longer lives that result from the nation’s investment in biomedical research.
Arthur S. Levine, M.D.
Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences and Dean, School of Medicine
University of Pittsburgh
Follow news and updates from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Schools of Health Sciences on their blog. Research!America thanks the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Arthur S. Levine, MD for their contributions to research and for their advocacy in this editorial published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Read the extended editorial here.