Sequestration Threatens Research and Education at the University of Utah
| Apr 13, 2013 12:00 PM
They are breakthroughs that have changed the landscape of medicine not only in Utah but also around the globe:
Researchers who identified genes that predispose certain people to breast cancer. Scientists who learned how snail venom could be used as a painkiller. Specialists who have developed drug therapies that can add years to a cancer patient’s life.
The list goes on, and all of these groundbreaking discoveries occurred at the University of Utah. Now, as a result of sequestration, we fear we could be telling fewer of these remarkable stories in the future. Sequestration will cut vital federal funding for medical research. The National Institutes of Health, the world’s leading medical grant agency, is losing $1.55 billion of its $31 billion annual budget. That translates to a 5 percent cut to medical research, a reduction that will cause major obstacles for research programs.
Our researchers at the University of Utah are not immune from the far-reaching impact of sequestration. Some have estimated that Utah may lose at least $19 million in research funding from the NIH at a time when funding from the organization is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.
Research interrupted by budget cuts may mean setbacks for important breakthrough discoveries. It may mean delays in finding a cure for cancer, Alzheimer’s or hundreds of other diseases that affect our loved ones and our communities. In 2012, the University of Utah received NIH grants totaling $139 million. With this money, among other projects, our researchers discovered a gene that contributes to the development of age-related macular degeneration –a leading cause of vision loss. Our scientists discovered that a simple blood test can identify high-risk patents and encourage them to make lifestyle changes to delay the onset of this problem. In another University department, our scientists developed a mathematical algorithm for acetaminophen (most commonly known as Tylenol) overdose, finding that the pain reliever can be deadly at only five times the recommended dose. The algorithm helps identify which patients can survive an overdose given an antidote and which require an emergency liver transplant.
We have many important NIH-funded research projects underway at the University of Utah and we are working diligently to ensure we use our resources efficiently. Like every academic health system in the United States, we depend on federal funds to support our research efforts. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, has stated that federal cuts to medical research constitute a “profound and devastating” blow at a time of unprecedented scientific opportunity—a statement that accurately captures this difficult predicament that threatens future discoveries.
On April 8, thousands of scientists, doctors and patients gathered in Washington D.C. to hold a rally in support of biomedical research and the NIH, including more than 20 representatives from the University of Utah.
Our health care system has voiced its support for the rally through the American Association for Cancer Research, an organization that works closely with our world-class Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Although many of us would have liked to be at the rally in person, we can still make our voices heard from Utah. I would encourage you to contact Utah’s congressional delegation with your concerns about funding cuts to medical research —with a phone call, email or through social media. You can also learn more about the Association of American Medical Colleges’ efforts on sequestration.
The rally in Washington D.C. is sure prompt continued public discussion on questions that we should all be asking ourselves: Is this the future we want for science in our country? Will we be able to attract and retain top minds to commit careers in science and medicine in an environment of uncertainty? Can we afford a delay in essential research that will lead to improved health for us and for future generations?
To address the health challenges of our aging and increasingly diverse population and remain a vibrant force in the global economy, our country needs sustained investment in medical research. We need a solution that reverses the destructive effects of sequestration and the harmful impact of continued cuts on research programs that benefit all Utahns.
Author: Vivian S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
About the Author: Dr. Vivian S. Lee is the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care. Read her full bio herecomments powered by Disqus