Hello there bloggies!
Now, this blog has almost entirely been a politics-free zone. We even made it through the US elections, Brexit, and other major votes without getting involved. But that is going to change a little bit in this post, pointing to how inter-connected our lives really are.
The cause of this change is the proposed budget put forth by the White House last year. Some details of this budget can be found here from the AP. In this budget, the federal government is slated to cut ~$6 billion or about 20% from the budget of the National Institutes of Health or NIH.
For those unfamiliar, the mission of the NIH is to fuel scientific discovery to help lead to better health and quality of life for everyone through better prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. They not only have their own health care provider system, but they help to fund their own research as well as much of the academic research in the United States. I think we all can realize the importance of scientific discovery in medicine and the desire to treat awful diseases like cancer, dementia, and heart disease better.
Cutting such a drastic amount of funding will hamper the NIH’s ability to help improve our understanding and treatment of human disease. Here are some of the devastating effects that such cuts would have if they take effect:
1) Slow scientific progress in biology & medicine: This may be the most obvious. With less money, there are fewer programs and projects that the NIH can support. Investigators already face incredibly stiff competition (and long odds) in obtaining funding for their research. This competition will only become even more ridiculous and less researchers will be able to fund their work. Not only that, but riskier yet possibly more impactful projects will become unsupportable. These are crazy ideas that sometimes lead to realizing the structure of DNA, developing a new way to sequence genomes, or identifying the virus that causes a disease. This also means fewer minds will be working on nature’s more complicated problems. Scientific advancement is made not by one person, but as a community of individuals building upon each other’s work. A smaller pie will not be able to feed the researchers needed to make the scientific community productive.
2) Bye-bye to the next generation of scientists: Young scientists receive their training largely not in the classroom, but in the trenches of the research world in the lab. The resources that universities and investigators use to support these trainees come either directly or indirectly from the NIH. Without these funds, investigators simply can’t afford to have these trainees in their lab and prepare them for a career in scientific research. Not only will there be less monetary support, but such an environment makes pursuing a career in research so much less appealing. Why would anyone want a job where you work so hard with the chance of success so small? Does not sound like a fulfilling way to spend your work life. Science will lose the best and the brightest to other more worthwhile fields.
3) NIH funds research that’s hard for the private sector to support: A lot of what the NIH supports is research that builds the foundation of our understanding of human biology and enables the development for better treatments, prevention strategies, and diagnosis methods. These foundational pieces of research may not have obvious commercial value at the onset. Indeed, they may even seem somewhat irrelevant, costly, and lengthy to the NIH’s goals of treating disease. There’s no way private companies would be willing to step in and fund this basic research to the extent that NIH does. Do you think a private company would pay to build a study of over 1 million participants and follow them for years? No way, but the NIH would and is. Would a private company fund and build an openly available database of genetic annotations? Not a chance!
However, academic and commercial research rely on these findings and resources in order to build their own applied clinical research and practice. Without that basic research in model organisms (including work in fruit flies, worms, and yeast) and work done at the lab bench, pharmaceutical companies would not be able to develop new drugs and biotech firms would not be able to revolutionize diagnostic testing with new technologies. NIH builds the foundation for scientific progress and commercial success.
4) Increase health care costs: With slowed scientific progress and more reliance on the private sector to step in and fund more research, health care costs will inevitably rise. The US and world populations are growing and getting older. The world is begging for better treatments for so many conditions, and this lack of commitment to finding them can only add to the ridiculous costs of health care.
5) NIH research is a cornerstone of biotech and pharma: As mentioned above, research supported by the NIH is important in fueling private sector work in medicine and biology. Those private enterprises employ thousands of people with good jobs that pay well and give good benefits. Take away this foundation support from the NIH and there will be fewer research and related jobs in the private sector.
As someone who has spent the last ten years in scientific research, I firmly believe in the mission of the NIH and its importance to not only academic and private scientific discovery, but to society as a whole. Improved health care and treatments is good for everyone. We and our families are all touched by disease whether it be cancer, dementia, heart attacks, or stroke. We all will rely on scientific discovery to make us and our loved ones better.
Disease has no political affiliation, just as support for the NIH does not. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have recognized the importance of the NIH mission for decades. I, for one, hope that this current generation of political leaders do so as well and enable the NIH to do its work. That doesn’t mean just handing a blank check to the NIH Director. Reform is needed as well to make sure the NIH is running efficiently, independently, and productively. Researchers must be made accountable to the US taxpayer and show that they are making good use of their hard earned dollars. But simply slashing the already depleted budget by 20% is not the answer.
So US taxpayer, I hope you continue your support of the NIH in its mission to combat human disease and make all of our lives’ better. The support and money is well worth it.
Thanks for stopping by! What do you think about the NIH budget? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.
See you soon!