President Barack Obama unveiled the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative on Tuesday. Described in a White House press release as one of the administration’s “Grand Challenges,” the goal of the initiative is to bring private and public sector research together to accelerate the development and application of technology and research into the function of complex neural networks. President Obama laid the ground work for today’s announcement during his State of the Union address in January, calling for an increased investment in research to achieve “a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.” Continue reading →
During the final presidential debate, research finally got some airtime. President Barack Obama noted that “… if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose to the competition.” Similarly, Mitt Romney emphasized his support for research, saying that “I want to invest in research, providing funding to universities … is great.”
It was great to hear both candidates acknowledge the importance of research for the future. As they explained, investment in research is crucial for supporting universities, creating jobs and maintaining America’s competitive edge (three of Research!America’s Top 10 Reasons Why the U.S. Should Invest in Global Health R&D). Research is also essential in protecting the health of the American people, as highlighted recently by a bipartisan group of Texas representatives.
On October 12, 21 Texas representatives sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking for more action to address the West Nile virus outbreak. Mentioning the significant burden of West Nile in Texas and throughout the country (4,725 cases and 219 fatalities this year alone), legislators requested that the agencies prioritize the development of a FDA-approved West Nile vaccine. Government-funded projects have made progress toward a West Nile vaccine in the past, and additional research investment could help to turn these vaccine candidates into a reality. Research to develop a vaccine is particularly important in light of new information on the long-term burden of West Nile. Recent studies have shown that 40% of West Nile patients still have severe, productivity-limiting symptoms several years after contracting the virus. Other researchers have discovered a link between the virus and chronic kidney disease, even among patients that did not show any West Nile symptoms originally.
In addition to the public health benefits of a West Nile vaccine, research investment into other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) could also save American lives. NTDs like Chagas disease and dengue fever affect thousands of Americans every day, and political leaders must prioritize research for new prevention and treatment methods to fight these diseases around the globe and here at home.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern
A recent editorial in The Washington Times by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and John C. Reed, MD, PhD, chief executive officer of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, makes a parallel between President John F. Kennedy’s call for a lunar mission in 1962 and the future of medical research’s battle against cancer.
In seven years, the authors note, America went from Kennedy’s proclamation to Neil Armstrong stepping out of the lunar module. (The op-ed ran two days before the legendary astronaut’s death.)
Because of our understanding of cancer and the treatments we now have for it, the authors write, we are in a better position to conquer cancer than the space program in 1962. Moreover, they write, we can get there because of four key components:
- Technology: Advances in DNA sequencing will allow treatments personalized to mutations in the cancer, instead of treating it based on the organ it’s affecting.
- Food and Drug Administration reform: The authors argue for better and more efficient methods of evaluating drugs. The recently passed FDA Reform Act is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done, they write.
- Tax reform: In their words, “Few people realize the impact taxes have on investment. We must reform our tax code to encourage investment by the high-tech and life-science industry in research. Along with critically important National Institutes of Health funding, private-sector investment will drive research integral to finding a cure.”
“At a time when Washington finds it difficult to act on bipartisan legislation, the fight against cancer gives us something we can agree to collaborate on rather than fight over,” they write. “Now is the time for President [Barack] Obama to work with the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader and take bold action to combat the cancer challenge.”
Of course, we hope that such bold action happens sooner rather than later. And likely voters think that too: Our most recent polling shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans think the new president should announce initiatives promoting medical progress during his first 100 days in office.
Research!America Press Release: Maintaining the Momentum of Medical Progress a Low Priority in Many Congressional Campaigns
WASHINGTON—August 7, 2012 —Research!America, a nonprofit advocacy alliance, says too many congressional candidates are minimizing the importance of our nation’s faltering role in fighting deadly and disabling diseases as a campaign issue. Polling indicates that Americans rank medical research a high priority but also shows a majority of likely voters are not aware of their representatives’ views on research.
Some candidates have indicated that they “don’t have time” to fill out a short questionnaire gauging their views on the importance of continued medical progress. Research!America and its partner organizations are calling on candidates to elevate the fight to save lives in their campaigns by participating in the national voter education initiative Your Candidates-Your Health, www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.
The brief questionnaire focuses on the nation’s investment in research and prevention; research as an economic driver; stem cell research; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and other related issues.
“The idea that candidates ’don’t have time‘ to address an issue that literally has life or death consequences for millions of Americans is truly disturbing,” said Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America. “Federally funded medical research is the catalyst to new, homegrown businesses in research and manufacturing in an economy that clearly needs both. Voters deserve to know where the candidates stand particularly when funding for research is on a downward slope, young scientists are discouraged about their future, and other countries are dramatically boosting their investments in research and development.”
In July, the House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that flat-funds the National Institutes of Health, eliminates the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and cuts funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 10% in FY13. In addition, funding for federal health agencies is at risk under sequestration – automatic spending cuts to take effect in January 2013.
Deep spending cuts would have a crippling effect on research conducted by universities, academic health centers and independent research institutions across the country. According to the CDC, approximately 50,000 Americans die monthly of heart disease, more than 47,000 of cancer, nearly 11,000 of stroke, more than 6,000 of Alzheimer’s disease, and more than 5,000 of diabetes.
To date, President Barack Obama and dozens of congressional candidates, including incumbents from both parties, have responded to the Your Candidates-Your Health questionnaire. Gov. Mitt Romney has yet to respond. To learn more about the survey and view the responses of candidates, visit www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org.
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.