No sequester reprieve for biomedical research

Scientists working on cancer research.

Congress may have solved one sequester problem— -- airport delays. But for others touched by sequestration, the budget cuts stand.

“When you look  at air traffic control, it affects people in obvious way,” says Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Health Institute. “Medical research, maybe not so obvious. The lead time between making a discovery and having a clinical benefit may be years. But we are putting a generation of young scientists at serious risk.”

Traditionally, “biomedical research has had bi-partisan support.” After all, “medical research is about all of us -- our loved ones, ourselves -- and it’s also a great way to stimulate the economy so what’s not to love?” But sequester brought $1.6 billion in cuts to the NIH. “This poison pill that when originally designed it was intended to be so poisonous that no one would swallow it -- it got swallowed and we got poisoned.”

When he meets young researchers -- they’re worried. “They’re asking is there a future for us? Do we have a career path? Should we think about doing something else? Or maybe going to another country? The anxiety is palpable and understandable, considering what’s happening.”

Yet, it’s been an otherwise exciting time to be a part of biomedical research, Collins says. “All of us involved in medical research are exhilarated by the pace at which discoveries are now possible. Technology has played a big role in that.”

Collins doesn’t worry funding for the NIH could be cut all together. But he does at times still retreat to his lab where he researches diabetes and aging.

“The lab is wonderful mental health for me when I’m getting a little bit frustrated with the political circumstances and the budgetary squeeze.”

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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