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
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT