Skip to main content

Cutting budgets for medical research is dangerous

By Claire Pomeroy and Eric R. Kandel
June 6, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT