Poised for big breakthroughs, US scientists find dwindling support

Excerpt of an op-ed published in The Hill by Research!America Board member E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, VP of medical affairs at the  University of Maryland, the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the School of Medicine; and Paul B. Rothman, M.D., Frances Watt Baker, M.D. and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D. Dean of the Medical Faculty, VP of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

reece and paulWith the midterm elections now behind us, we could not help but notice that one crucial policy issue was not considered in a serious or thoughtful way on the campaign trail: today’s woeful funding shortfalls in science.

The American research enterprise, long the world’s gold standard for scientific progress, is at risk of slipping behind. For over a decade, the federal government has pulled back financial support for biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget has failed even to keep pace with the cost of conducting research; factoring in inflation, it has declined 24 percent since 2003. Yes, we need to shrink the federal deficit, but by targeting research spending, this country risks trading a budgetary deficit for a discovery deficit.

Our academic medical centers at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland have made immense contributions to science, including the discovery of restriction enzymes, which gave birth to genetic engineering; the identification of the three types of polio virus; the discovery of a new class of drugs to treat breast cancer; and the development of vaccines for swine flu. Without NIH-funded basic research, none of these advances would have reached a single patient. Yet in fiscal year 2014, our two medical schools took a sequestration hit of about 10 percent on average of our total NIH funding. As we stare down the public-health threat of Ebola virus, we are calling on Congress to rethink its budgetary priorities and make biomedical research a national mandate.

Currently, NIH and other science agencies are operating under a continuing resolution, set to expire in December. This scenario creates tremendous uncertainty. Academic institutions like ours need consistency in federal funding so that we can align the size of our training programs to fit our future research workforce.

Read the full op-ed here.           

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