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Second Opinion

Learn about policy issues important to medical schools and teaching hospitals, with Executive Vice President Atul Grover, M.D., Ph.D.

Washington Highlights

Collins Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Human Genome Project, Describes Consequences of NIH Funding Cuts

June 21, 2013—The Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research joined Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, in sponsoring a June 20 congressional briefing commemorating the 10th anniversary of completion of the Human Genome Project.

At the event, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, spoke about how advances in genomic medicine over the last decade have yielded major biological insights and new medical and other applications. The pair also described how continued investment in improving our understanding of the genetic underpinnings of disease will lead to improved human health.

For example, Dr. Collins relayed the story of fraternal twins who are now active high school students, thanks to treatments they received after being diagnosed — through genetic sequencing — with a previously unknown genetic condition.

Dr. Collins also responded to question from a student about to begin a Ph.D. program at Michigan State University, who worried how dwindling NIH funds would affect the medical research enterprise. Citing sequestration and a nearly 25 percent loss in purchasing power over the last decade, leading to historically low success rates, Dr. Collins expressed his concern over how such trends will impact young investigators. He said, “I worry deeply about what may happen if we don’t succeed in giving those individuals the confidence that they have a career path. That is what wakes me up at 3 a.m.”

He noted that he received 2,000 responses within a few days to his tweet asking the scientific community about the impact of sequestration on research. “Some of them were heartbreaking in terms of researchers on the brink of doing a really interesting experiment, and now they cannot. Or individuals who were offered a position as a post-doc, and then just got a letter saying that, ‘I’m sorry, you cannot come after all because we do not have the funds.’ This is a very serious situation.”

Dr. Collins also described the “paradoxical” nature of cuts to NIH just as other countries ramp up support for medical research by as much as 20 percent, inspired the by U.S.’s past investment.  He stated, “We at NIH will do everything we can to figure out ways to continue moving the ship forward, but there is no real magic here ... It seems like we are at a real risk of losing what has been a remarkable driver of our economy and whole national personality. We were on the leading edge of medical research, and we cannot be confident that is going to be there because we want it to.”

Over 100 congressional staff and other attendees participated in the briefing. AAMC coordinates the Ad Hoc Group, a coalition of more than 300 patient and voluntary health groups, medical and scientific societies, academic and research organizations, and industry.

The same day, the coalition issued a statement thanking the Senate Appropriations Committee and its chair, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), for the allocation it provided to the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, which funds NIH and other health programs (see related story).

The statement also contrasts the Senate allocation  with the 18.5 percent cut to the Labor-HHS-Education allocation approved by the House Appropriations Committee [see Washington Highlights, May 24], stating, “As researchers already grapple with a loss of purchasing power due to a decade of effectively flat budgets and the effects of a $1.7 billion cut to NIH in the current year, the House’s allocation promises to strike a devastating blow to the nation’s medical research effort and to the millions of Americans who look to medical research for hope against disease and disability.”

Contact:

Dave Moore
Senior Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-828-0559
Email: dbmoore@aamc.org

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806
Email: jkleinman@aamc.org