By David J. Bjorkman, Gary W. Petty, Barry T. Rosson and Marlaine Smith
The House Appropriations Committee has proposed a budget that would result in a devastating cut of nearly 20 percent to National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. The faculty of Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and the Division of Research ask that this extreme proposal be stopped.
For nearly 70 years, NIH-funded research has given us greater understanding of the causes of disease, increased life expectancy and improved the health of Americans. In recent years, NIH-funded advances have led to a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and a test to predict breast cancer recurrence, helped identify genetic markers for mental illness, improved asthma treatments and nearly eliminated HIV transmissions between mother and child. NIH-funded research also has led to a 60 percent decline in deaths from heart disease and a 70 percent decrease in deaths from stroke.
Researchers at health sciences centers conduct approximately half of all externally funded research by the NIH. Faculty throughout Florida Atlantic University are studying Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, neurological disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, macular degeneration, auto-immune diseases, depression and addiction, HIV/AIDS and malaria. In addition, FAU researchers are testing approaches that could prevent illness, relieve pain and promote health among persons of all ages from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Despite these advances, federal budget cuts that are part of sequestration slashed the NIH’s budget by $1.7 billion. The House now proposes to cut funding by three times that amount, to levels not seen since the 1990s.
NIH Director Francis Collins says these cuts would be a “profound and devastating” blow at a time of unprecedented scientific opportunity. Research interrupted by budget cuts, even for a few weeks, may mean years lost for patients for whom medical research is their only hope.
NIH also is critical to our economic health. As the nation’s chief medical research agency, NIH is the largest source of funding for health-related research in the world, creating hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs, new products and improved technologies. According to the NIH, in fiscal year 2011 its research supported more than 400,000 jobs. NIH funding is the foundation for long-term U.S. global competitiveness in biotechnology, medical device manufacturing and pharmaceutical development.
The United States has a strong reputation as a leader in biomedical innovation. However, China, India, and other countries are challenging our dominance by vastly increasing public funding into medical research.
Time and time again, the American people have expressed their support for the importance of federal funding for health-related research. This cut, if enacted, would be disastrous for the critical work supported by NIH, and could cut off the only hope for millions of patients coping with cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other serious illnesses and disabilities.
Inaction is not an option. Americans want cures and care, not cuts. Florida Atlantic University joins other universities, health professions organizations, and health care institutions in urging Congress and the administration to work together to craft a bipartisan balanced deficit reduction plan that replaces the sequester cuts and preserves the life-saving research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The people of this nation are depending on it.
David J. Bjorkman is dean and director of medical affairs at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. Gary W. Perry is dean of the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Barry T. Rosson is vice president for research and dean of the graduate college. Marlaine Smith is dean of the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing.