Just this past month, the House of Representatives passed a new budget bill that would make permanent the sequestration cuts. Being a physician-scientist in training, one of my biggest concerns is the proposed 8.4% cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding of biomedical research. There are also cuts proposed to the National Science Foundation. Every single time a doctor evaluates a patient or prescribes a therapy for a serious illness, federally funded biomedical research plays a key role in the process. We need to continue to make progress in learning about and treating incurable diseases, and this cut in NIH funding severely undermines such progress. Currently, about 90% of research proposals made by scientists and physicians are rejected for funding by the NIH due to resource limitations. This is an unhealthy rate and will only worsen if the NIH budget is further reduced.
We need to be concerned with how this funding drop will affect our future, not just the present research. This low level of NIH funding and insanely competitive grant applications will inhibit young people from entering careers in biomedical research. Young researchers in particular depend more on NIH funding to begin their careers. Furthermore, if there is less funding and grants become more competitive, researchers must spend more time working on grants and less time on their actual research and other duties — for physician-scientists, this may include seeing patients or teaching the next generation of doctors. As there are still a myriad of incurable diseases, we need to continue to provide incentives to young people to enter research careers.
The U.S. government is the single largest supporter of scientific research in the world, and we are the leaders in biomedical research and innovation to which the whole world looks. We attract the best and brightest from around the world. China, India, Russia and other countries are amplifying their investments in biomedical research. With this proposed cut to NIH funding, we will have a much harder time staying at that forefront. In addition, scientific advancements are a tremendous boon to the economy. For example, it is estimated that the Human Genome Project returned $140 to the U.S. economy for every $1 spent to fund it. Scientific advancements create new jobs, instigate the creation of new companies and lead to the development of innovative technologies that improve our lives and health. The sequester cuts to biomedical research will cost thousands of jobs and force many labs to close.
So what do we do about it? Use your voice! I urge you to write letters to your Senators and Representatives. Tell your fellow medical students to write letters, too. You can also write letters to the editor for newspapers or magazines to encourage other people in your community to voice their opinions. We must let our voice be heard so that America’s future biomedical research is not jeopardized. Your country and your future patients need your help.