Research!America Hits the Hill to Defend Health Research
More than one advocacy group is hitting the halls to remind Congress that they're still fighting -- and that they're terrified of the sequester.
Research!America, a nonprofit group that advocates for funding for biomedical research, kicked off a number of visits to Hill offices Tuesday and Wednesday as part of an advocacy week aimed at keeping funding at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere out of the across-the-board cuts scheduled to hit later this year.
"In preparation for this moment, we wanted to make sure that many of the stakeholders in research for health were being heard, were speaking with one voice and were getting to the conversation at exactly the moment that some of the most momentous decision making that any Congress has ever made is about to take place," Research!America President Mary Woolley told the Alley.
Scientists from the Society for Neuroscience and the Georgetown University Medical Center, among others, joined activists from groups like the Parkinson's Action Network to explain to health staffers why biomedical research -- a historically nonpartisan issue area with widespread public support -- shouldn't be cut. They met with staffers from the offices of Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others.
Cutting spending on research, they told the Alley, doesn't just affect the current grant holders. Young scientists interested in continuing their education with grants and fellowships often leave the field when funding is unavailable. Currently the average age of researchers receiving their first grant is 42, according to Larry Swanson of the SFN. That fact, he said, is driving America's future scientists into other fields or other countries.
"You're dealing with a pipeline. And when a pipeline breaks, things start to leak," Marty Saggese, executive director for the SFN, said. "You can fix the leak, but you may not be able to put the pieces back in. And the people who are coming along in the pipeline may have diverted out. And so you may get a significant gap in the country's scientific infrastructure."
Investing in biomedical research, moreover, can cut the costs for health care -- which now account for about 18 percent of GDP -- in a long term, sustained way, the advocates said.
"When you look at the costs for an array of [diseases], that strategy of investing relatively modest amounts can begin to flatten the curve of the costs in ways that make really significant fiscal and economic contributions to the long term health of the country," Saggese said.
The advocacy group has struggled in the past to convince reluctant scientists to speak up about their work in ways the government and the public can understand. This time, however, the sequester has them more concerned than ever.
"They're scared. Things have never been this dire in the science community, I mean never since 1950. They're extremely concerned and they're hearing from leaders in the science community that this is appropriate and this is the right time to reach out, even if they aren't comfortable and they haven't done it before," Woolley said.
According to the groups, the day's visits went well. Their message was well-received, according to Suzanne Ffolkes, the group's vice president of communications.
“Based on the feedback, we know there’s bipartisan support for basic research. The question remains how strong the support will be as decisions are made," she said in a statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the average age of grant recipients is 42; that figure reflects the average age of researchers receiving their first grant.