On April 8, as an outgrowth of the American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting, scientists, patients and caregivers will mobilize at a rally near the Washington, D.C., convention center to protest cuts to medical research. NIH director Francis Collins and Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne will speak alongside survivors of breast cancer, diabetes and cardiac arrest. Organizers are hoping more than 20,000 will attend.
Roberta DeBiasi, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Children's National Medical Center, plans to attend the rally.
"I think the important thing is to make it visible that there really is a threat to research," DeBiasi said.
She worries that rare diseases will become more overlooked as a result of the cuts and fears the impact on basic science research. She cites the outbreak of the SARS virus as an example of the importance of basic science research. Had scientists not been studying a related corona virus similar to the one that caused SARS, they would have lacked critical information that helped them understand the virus and contain its spread.
One big question as government funding slows is whether private foundations and companies will step in to fill the void.
Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a nonprofit group, said organizations like hers are already feeling pressure to raise more money for research to help fill the gap. Her group raised $5 million for research this year (mostly from individual private donors and events), up from $3.8 million the year before.
"Certainly it's a call to action for organizations like ours to fill the gaps, and to be smart strategically."
Many add that the sequester cuts have resulted in widespread discouragement among young scientists. Riggins said the vast majority of students working on her floor likely won't pursue academic biomedical research as a career, due to funding concerns.
"These people have good ideas," she said. "They're smart, they're creative, and we're going to lose that."
It's becoming harder and harder for young scientists to find tenure-track positions, Yamamoto added. Training programs, too, are accepting less students and reducing class size.
"Many of the people who enter postdoctoral training have aspirations to become professors and carry out independent research," he said. "But the sequester has led to great concern among the trainees....To see these training programs have to cut back is really tragic," Yamamoto said.
From PBS NewsHour (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.