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This I Know: Medical Research is Indomitable and Noble

Ann C. Bonham, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer


Medical schools and teaching hospitals have such an enormous impact in the universe of scientific discovery. Just consider the research highlighted in the Emory University School of Medicine’s project to advance precision oncology by isolating and eliminating individual metastatic cancer cells; or the University of Minnesota Medical School’s efforts to understand more about how humans make decisions by monitoring animals’ brain activity during the decision-making process; or the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine’s efforts to reduce hearing loss by learning about how calcium signals can be targeted to protect against noise-induced hearing loss. And there are many more examples. Even in these past years of tenuous research funding and the unremitting financial strain on our academic health centers to deliver the finest health care to the most vulnerable patients, this kind of exciting research reminds us that fundamental discovery still deserves a preeminent place in academic medicine.

The senior leadership of institutions, departments, and programs – urgently working to survive in the changing health care climate – still value basic science and understand the foundational role that exploration and discovery plays in medicine. Basic science catalyzes and advances the full spectrum of biomedical research to safeguard the health of the nation and the world.

The largest public funder of research in the US, including basic science, is the NIH, but medical schools and teaching hospitals also have plenty of skin in the game. Recent AAMC research, in partnership with institutional financial and research leaders, and Huron Education, showed that on average, for every dollar of sponsored research a medical school or teaching hospital receives, they contribute an additional 53 cents from their own resources.

As I’ve visited these institutions over the years, I’ve always been struck by their tireless efforts to advance medical research to improve the health of our communities. As I look back on my time as Chief Scientific Officer at the AAMC, I remember most fondly the privilege I’ve had to work with so many dedicated institutional leaders, faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical students, and residents. They are the bedrock of our medical research enterprise. They are the ones who make it happen day in and day out.

It is also mind-boggling to think of the changes, challenges, and advances of the policy landscape over the past few years. The research enterprise has been bolstered tremendously by the praiseworthy efforts of many legislators – all efforts that deserve recognition. The Affordable Care Act’s creation of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) was a momentous step forward. So too were the BRAIN Initiative and President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative. The final iteration of the 21st Century Cures Act may be another great stride. We should also remember the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

As for the future, my hope is that the FY 2016 omnibus spending package, providing the NIH a bump of $2B (6.6% of its current budget), signals a bipartisan commitment to predictable, sustainable funding for medical research. I also believe that the future of research will be secure, so long as we maintain the public’s trust in science. To that end, it all comes back to the nobility of medical research – advancing the health and well-being of all citizens of the world.

And finally, many, many thanks to all of you for continuing to advance the indomitability and nobility of medical research.