Rally for Medical Research: Building a grassroots movement to make medical research a higher national priority

Thousands of scientists, patients and research advocates gathered on the grounds of the Carnegie Library in Washington, DC, on April 8 to unite behind a call for increased funding for medical research. The Rally for Medical Research was organized by the American Association for Cancer Research in conjunction with their annual meeting and was supported by more than 200 partnering organizations — including Research!America. The program featured statements from patients and their families, scientists, policy makers, and research advocates. Cokie Roberts of ABC News and NPR, cancer survivor and research advocate, was the master of ceremonies.

Survivors of heart disease, stroke, HIV, Type 1 diabetes and other debilitating diseases shared their stories. Though each patient and family member had a unique experience, they all echoed the same sentiment: Medical research has dramatically improved their lives and is a key source of hope for patients living with disease. For others, though, research is still desperately needed. Gee Gerke shared her experience of watching her father slip away as Alzheimer’s disease progressively took hold of his mind.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), as well as research leaders, spoke on the impact of medical research on their lives and our country. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD, president of Rockefeller University and former chief scientific officer of Genentech, said that sequestration cuts on top of flat-funded research budgets are damaging basic science research, and that is a gap that industry will not fill. The event also featured messages in support of research from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Rep. David McKinley (R-WV).

Closing the ceremony, the Honorable John Edward Porter, former congressman and chair of Research!America, encouraged rally attendees to continue the grassroots movement from Monday’s rally in their hometowns and to take the fight to their congressional representatives. Porter said that previous efforts to convince policy makers to increase National Institutes of Health funding have not yet been successful and called on scientists to be “intellectual activists” and get “fighting mad.” He encouraged advocates to appeal to Congress on personal levels as well as using the hard facts about the costs of disease.

“It’s time for them to step up and have the courage to do their jobs,” Porter said of elected officials. “The job of Congress — appropriators, leadership, every Member — is to choose national priorities going forward and put national resources behind them … These are people that are accountable to you … If you can’t get involved and get passionate about what medical research means to our country and our future, who can?”

You can join rally attendees and participate in the text petition to Congress; or contact your representatives in Congress directly and write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Be sure to share your story and use the facts about sequestration cuts to medical research.

—Megan Kane, PhD; communications intern with Research!America

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