Poisonous politics

The NIH braces for more bad news from Congress this fall.

The national Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., is home to the largest research hospital in the world and funds biomedical research at universities nationwide.

NIH grants help support cutting-edge biomedical research that will improve public health. Innovations from NIH grants spur patents and licenses, as well as boost local industries. Local economic growth from grants is more than double the amount invested.

Notable examples of NIH-funded research at the University of Minnesota include the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, magnetic resonance imaging technologies, stem cell treatments, improved HIV and AIDS treatment and an engineered human heart valve.

Earlier this year, Congress failed to agree on a budget. Our legislators forgot they have an obligation to work together to lead our nation. Their inaction caused the sequestration, or Budget Control Act of 2011, to take effect, with across-the-board cuts in the federal spending affecting everything from pre-K education to defense spending. The cuts were supposed to deter a political standoff, but rationality is rare in Washington these days.

 If Congress is still unable to agree, analysts expect nothing will be spared from cuts. The NIH, which was already forced to cut $1.7 billion, anticipates losing $19 billion over 10 years. Life-saving treatments, like a universal flu vaccine, will be delayed in reaching our hospitals if the cuts continue.

“People are going to die of influenza five years from now because we don’t yet have the universal vaccine,” NIH Director Francis Collins told the
Huffington Post.

The NIH’s role in keeping our nation healthy and safe from disease is of the utmost importance. We may not know exactly what challenges face our generation this century, but we do know disease is a constant burden.

Politics are poisonous when they threaten biomedical discovery and innovation.

Join me in urging our congressional leaders to reconcile differences and pass a budget that features strong support of biomedical research funding.