You can’t sequester cancer; cutting back on research is a deadly mistake

By Robert Weiner and Patricia Berg, PhD

You can’t sequester cancer. You can only hurt the research to treat and prevent the diseases, and stop the treatments themselves.

That is the message of 18,000 scientists gathered for the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual convention in Washington. A rally for medical research with those thousands of scientists — usually wonky researchers poring over their microscopes — was held on the grounds of the Carnegie Library across from the Washington Convention Center. In rhythm to drumbeats, the scientists became political advocates as they chanted after each speaker, “More progress! More hope! More life!”

Cancer is neither Democratic nor Republican. About 1.6 million people a year get cancer diagnoses, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 40,000 women each year die from breast cancer alone. The cancer mortality rate — the number of people who die from the disease — has been reduced by one-third over the past three decades, largely because of the research that has produced drugs, treatments, prevention strategies and knowledge about better diet and living habits. Still, one-half of men and one-third of women will contract cancer sometime in their lives. They then become subject to “the vortex of disbelief and fear,” as one speaker explained.

When we sequester the research — stop it dead in its tracks so no additional scientific advances can be made — we are cutting off our nose to spite our face.

The scientists meeting in Washington are saying that the cuts through sequestration are devastating. Speaker after speaker pointed out that the National Institutes of Health has lost 20 percent in real dollars after inflation during the past decade and that grant support is at its lowest ever. “While we retreat, other countries copy our successful past model to help their economies,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Former Rep. John Porter, an Illinois Republican who served 21 years in Congress and now is chairman of Research!America, agreed: “We played nice,” he told the crowd. “So it’s time to get mad, to get militantly moderate.”

The rally was not limited to cancer. Some of the speakers were people living with HIV, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. One an Alzheimer’s caregiver. They are all survivors, they said, because of medical research.

Cancer affects all, and so does the hampering of research. It’s time for Congress to end the sequestration.

Weiner is a former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and was chief of staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging and the subcommittee on health. Berg is a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center and director of its breast cancer laboratory. You can read the full op-ed at the Washington Times. The Rally for Medical Research was held Monday, April 8 in Washington, D.C.  Learn more about the event here.

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