Tag Archives: University of Pittsburgh

Invest in America’s health

By Olivera J. Finn and Robert E. Schoen

An excerpt of an op-ed by Olivera J. Finn, PhD a distinguished professor and chair of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Robert E. Schoen, MD, MPH professor of medicine and epidemiology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Olivera J. Finn

Olivera J. Finn, PhD

Robert E. Schoen, MD, MPH

Robert E. Schoen, MD, MPH

Every day, physicians and scientists see the hope and promise that medical research brings to patients and families. For nearly 70 years, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has increased understanding of the causes of disease, contributed to longer life expectancy and improved the health and well-being of all Americans. With such a proud record of economic and social benefit, it is shocking that the House Appropriations Committee has proposed a drastic cut of nearly 20 percent to NIH funding in 2014. This outrageous proposal must be stopped.

Research is a dynamic process. New, life-improving advances are constantly within reach — but only with uninterrupted effort, commitment and funding. NIH Director Francis Collins says these cuts would be a “profound and devastating” blow at a time of unprecedented scientific opportunity. Continue reading →

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A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Continuing Resolution Passes; Sequestration Unaffected

Dear Research Advocate,

Congress has passed a spending bill for what remains of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. Preliminary agency funding levels have been reported by Nature. The appropriations process remains important for making up some small amount of the ground lost to sequestration, but as long as sequestration remains the law of the land, annual cuts to NIH, FDA and our nation’s other health research agencies are all but assured; and with it, the insidious ripple effect of damage to grantees, vendors, and the pharma, bio and device industries that partner with researchers to develop the products patients await. That’s the bottom line. We must remind our representatives that sequestration is not some “new normal” we will adjust to, it is a costly mistake! We must remind them that the longer it takes to correct that mistake, the more damage will be done.

As this letter is written, the Senate is debating a budget resolution for FY14. One or more amendments related to NIH are likely to be considered. While it is unlikely any of these amendments will result in increased funding next year – they are likely to be symbolic in nature – we should not dismiss them as unimportant. Singling out medical research funding for consideration and discussion during the budget debate lays the groundwork for more concrete action going forward. As does Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz’s (D-PA) introduction of a stand-alone bill, the “Inspiring Scientific Research and Innovation Act,” calling for a stunning $3 billion increase to NIH funding. Prospects for this bill are slim, but if enough advocates urge their representatives to fashion similarly bold statements of support of this nature, we can turn this around.

American priorities and American progress are on the line more than ever, yet Congress persists in acting like political parties scoring points instead of conducting the public’s business. This point and more were addressed by Research!America’s chair, The Honorable John Porter, at our Advocacy Awards dinner. Many of you have asked to see this speech, which was highlighted in Roll Call. Please contact policy makers to speak out against sequestration; better yet – contact them today and then go visit them in-district next week while they are on recess. Many of our members have or will soon engage in “Hill Day” visits with many advocates – and the timing could not be better. Our fact sheet on sequestration as well as the flyer we developed calling for cures, not cuts, are both good leave-behinds.  Developing new champions is one goal of those Hill Days, I know. Yesterday, in partnership with United for Medical Research, we held a breakfast meeting for freshman Members of Congress to meet NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. Dr. Collins provided an overview of the opportunities for research and highlighted the challenges facing NIH, including sequestration. Please be sure to thank those who attended and use the opportunity to reinforce the local case for research.

Making the local case is equally if not more important in district as well as on Capitol Hill. This is where the media can amplify the story. Dismal news about the impact of sequestration on our nation’s world class universities is in fact being heard nationwide. Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Carol Greider, a former Research!America Board member and Nobel laureate, was quoted in Reuters about the cutbacks her lab has faced, which have prevented her from hiring promising young researchers. An article in Fox News cites concerns from Research!America Board member Dr. Larry Shapiro, who is witnessing anxiety among young researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.  Dr. Arthur Levine of the University of Pittsburgh writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the staffing cuts and job losses that could occur, with some of the worst impacts hitting young investigators. The media remains hungry for stories about the impact of these cuts. Write an op-ed or pitch a story to your state or local paper. As always, let us know how we can help.

April 8 is coming right up. If you haven’t already planned to join the Rally for Research here in Washington, make it a priority. As a measure of the level of urgency of speaking out for research and against sequestration, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is, for the first time ever, shutting down their annual research conference so that all 18,000 attendees can participate. And they have extended the Rally widely, to encompass all research and stakeholders in research, to present a comprehensive perspective of health research. This is the kind of game-changing advocacy called for right now. Our Board Chair, Congressman John Porter, will be speaking at the event along with other advocates. The challenges and opportunities before us demand not just a team effort, but a HUGE team effort. Lend your talent and your time. We’ll drive across the goal line together.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

Guest Post: Arthur S. Levine, MD of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Arthur S. Levine, MDEveryone 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.

2012 Lasker Awards Announced

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation has announced the winners of its 2012 Awards:

  • Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award: Michael Sheetz, PhD (Columbia University); James Spudich, PhD (Stanford University); and Ronald Vale, PhD (University of California San Francisco)
  • Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award: Sir Roy Calne (University of Cambridge, emeritus); Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD (University of Pittsburgh)
  • Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award: Donald D. Brown, DSc (Carnegie Institute); Tom Maniatis, PhD (Columbia University)

The winners were announced Monday. The seven men will be honored at a ceremony September 21 in New York.

“The Lasker Awards celebrate biomedical research that has had a transformative effect on the practice of medicine, science, and the lives and health of people all over the world,” said Alfred Sommer, MD, chair of the Lasker Foundation’s board of directors, in a statement. “This year’s awards are no exception, honoring fundamental biological discoveries, life-saving surgical techniques and scientific statesmanship of the highest order.

According to the foundation’s press release, Sheetz, Spudich and Vale are being honored for their work in discovering proteins that transport cargoes within cells; Calne and Sterzl for their work in fashioning life-saving liver transplantation techniques; and Brown and Maniatis for their work with genes and for fostering the development of early-career scientists.

“The intellectual rigor and perseverance exhibited by this year’s laureates greatly extended the medical research community’s knowledge of cell biology, led to new surgical techniques that prevented many deaths, and provided a deeper understanding of genetics across generations of scientists worldwide,” Maria Freire, PhD, president of the Lasker Foundation, said in a statement. “With determination and verve, they boldly pursued new paths of inquiry that have benefited all mankind.”