Archive for: February, 2011

NIH budget cuts affect medical research AND the economy

Feb 16 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I don't usually ask for things like this, but as others (e.g. Isis and drdrA) have linked, there is a VERY important vote happening this week on the budget that could have a direct impact on labs (and tenure track positions) like mine and yours.

Biomedical research depends on NIH funding from the government, because we can't trust the market and commercial entities to support research and development towards medical treatments and devices that won't bring in short-term profits. They call them "orphan diseases" for a reason: because they are ignored by the industrial science world. As many of you may have read about, my cousin Nora's cancer was extremely rare, with so few patients that pharmaceutical companies just aren't interested in studying it or developing therapies for it. All of the advances made in treating her cancer, many of which she participated in trials for, came from academic research labs or non-commercial institutes.

The NIH also runs many clinical trials for less rare diseases that are too long-term for industry. Without that stepping stone, many groundbreaking treatments for heart disease, genetic diseases and cancers (including common cancers like breast and lung cancer) would not have made it into your hospital or doctor's office. We need NIH funding to keep research labs supported to do the work that underlies the basis for these trials, and to keep the trials themselves flowing to bring these advances into the real world.

On another side of the story, thousands of jobs all over the country depend on NIH funding. Running a research lab is like running a small business: you have to attract investment to support your operation and pay your employees. The NIH is a major source of this investment, and if NIH funding levels are cut, labs like mine will have to lay off employees immediately, as well as halt all growth, because it will be incredibly difficult to get sufficient investment to pay salaries. Since research is not a profit-making enterprise, we have no other options for increasing our working capital. I personally will have to consider laying off staff and/or stopping all growth in my lab, and my own job will be in jeopardy in three years time, because getting significant NIH funding is basically a requirement for getting tenure. If I don't get tenure, I lose my job. And it won't be from lack of trying: in just two and  half years, I have already submitted more than eight grant applications, and they have all gotten very strong reviews from their respective scientific panels--however if there isn't enough money to go around at NIH, it doesn't matter how much the reviewers liked my grant, they just can't fund them all.

Please consider calling your representative today to tell them how you feel about this and what it means to you to keep biomedical research into rare diseases like Nora's funded. Here is a link where you can
enter your zip code and get the information you need to make the call:

Thanks for considering it.

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Nice to get reminded that I'm not a grinch.

Feb 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I've reviewed grant proposals for NIH a few times now, and despite the widespread availability of grant advice on the internet, many proposals are truly difficult to read and hard to get excited about. I end up feeling like the state of science is incredibly derivative, poorly thought-out and lazily rationaled. But every once in a while, I see one that rises up out of the mediocrity and is just so freaking cool, that I can't wait to see the investigator(s) publish their work from it and it reassures me that I'm not just a crabby old bastard.

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