Skip to main content

Cutting budgets for medical research is dangerous

By Claire Pomeroy and Eric R. Kandel
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Fri June 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Claire Pomeroy, Eric Kandel: Investment in medical research is crucial to our nation
  • Pomeroy, Kandel: Government budget cuts delay clinical studies, weaken medical labs
  • They say many life-saving medical breakthroughs were made possible by research
  • Pomeroy, Kandel: Interrupting funding for medical research is dangerous and bad

Editor's note: Claire Pomeroy is president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the mission of which is to improve health by accelerating support for medical research. Eric R. Kandel, a neuropsychiatrist, received the 1983 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN) -- Renee was just a baby when she was diagnosed with a deadly liver disease. At age 23, Erin was told she had cancer. And Shelley's progressive hearing loss isolated her from her family and the world.

Every day, patients like them seek hope that new treatments and cures are on the horizon.

That hope is now seriously threatened by our nation's declining commitment to investing in medical research.

Claire Pomeroy
Claire Pomeroy
Eric R. Kandel
Eric R. Kandel

Recently, 186 members of Congress from both parties wrote their colleagues on the Appropriations Committees to urge that the 2015 federal budget include at least $32 billion for the National Institutes of Health to ensure medical research in our country continues to thrive.

Watch video: Pausing medical research: A dangerous experiment

The lawmakers' call to action was prompted by the distressing reality of NIH budgets, which have flat-lined across the past decade. Federally funded research adjusted for inflation has experienced a 20% decline in purchasing power, forcing medical laboratories around the country to curtail crucial experiments, delay clinical studies and forgo hiring of promising young investigators.

This is a tragic deviation from the history of support previous generations of Americans have given to medical discovery and the scientific community.

Federally funded research was a priority because it made possible many life-saving medical breakthroughs. Vaccines were developed, including one for polio that stopped an epidemic of childhood paralysis and another for the human papillomavirus vaccine that can actually prevent cervical cancer. New chemotherapies dramatically changed the prognosis for a number of previously fatal cancers. The course of the HIV/AIDS epidemic was altered as the causative virus was identified and effective antiretroviral drugs were discovered. Scientists sequenced the human genome, paving the way for personalized medicine.

Basic science is the fundamental foundation for medical breakthroughs, providing insights into the ways cells and organisms work, the normal function of the human body and the perturbations that occur during disease. Basic research also can yield unexpected results with serendipitous insights that lead to unpredicted advances and solutions for serious diseases. Clinical research then translates these basic findings into new drugs, devices and other interventions that will become the tools for future medical care.

Interrupting budgets on basic and clinical research is dangerous. Skipping even a few years in adequately funding research programs may seem like an obvious fiscal fix, but such a skewed notion risks devastating health as well as our nation's prosperity and security.

Each day the debilitating effects of the slowdown have already forced dedicated scientists to struggle to do more with less. But the effects will linger even after funding is restored, further delaying scientific progress. More time will be lost because researchers will have to re-establish research models and laboratory protocols, re-hire and retrain staff and repeat costly experiments to confirm that results are still reproducible.

The hiatus in adequate research support also sends discouraging messages to the next generation of researchers. The cuts have caused trainees to question whether they will be able to obtain grant support to do the work they love. Too many are choosing other fields because of the uncertainty. This loss of human resources will take many years to replace.

But the biggest danger is the loss of hope. Many patients don't have time to wait a few years for breakthroughs. Disease does not wait for an economic recovery.

Unless Americans recommit to funding medical research, we should no longer assume that science will find a cure.

For Renee, Erin and Shelley, medical research provided answers in time. Renee received a liver transplant and is now a successful attorney. Erin's leukemia was treated with a new chemotherapy and she is raising a beautiful baby. And thanks to a cochlear implant, Shelley can hear the voices of her grandchildren.

Like them, every one of us has a stake in publicly funded science. We encourage all Americans to claim their stake, for their own sake and the sake of our nation's future. Urge members of Congress to voice their support for sustained funding for the National Institutes of Health in 2015, and beyond.

Most importantly, let's keep our promise to each other, our children, our grandchildren and the rest of the world and renew America's commitment to funding lifesaving biomedical research. The opportunity to make breakthrough discoveries has never been more promising. The risk of losing that opportunity has never been more profound.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT