Officials, researchers voice concern over possible NIH funding

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined with local hospitals and research universities at Boston Medical Center on Monday to highlight the dangers of possible research funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health next month.

Menino said in a press release Monday he was astounded that Congress could consider cutting NIH funding.

“The doctors who have joined us here today have made it their life’s work to improve people’s lives. I hope in the coming days we can say the same about Congress,” he said.

CEO and President of Joslin Diabetes Center, John Brooks III, who was present at the press conference, said reducing NIH’s funding would negatively impact not only current research projects, but the future as well.

“Over time, the other part of the sequester is — there is a 2013 impact — but if we don’t get our financial help, or it continues to go over the next ten years, That would be devastating to enabling us to keep this type of faculty and keep the people we have here to support this type of research,” Brooks said.

The Joslin Diabetes Center uses funds from NIH to support research toward identifying the underlying causes of the disease, and toward developing potential treatments and therapies for individuals struggling with diabetes, Brooks said.

He said the center relies heavily on funding from NIH and reducing funding would evoke a major change.

“Something is going to have to give and that’s going to be reducing the scope or cutting back on the size of the experiments. That tends to undermine the viabilities of science, so they aren’t really good choices,” he said.

In a report detailing the funding cuts released by Research America in 2012, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D. PH.D. said the cuts would restrict 2,300 grants from being given in the 2013 fiscal year.

“The burden would hit particularly heavily upon first-time investigators who are seeking to get their programs up and going,” Collins said in the report. “And upon learning of something of this sort, what is already a considerable sense of anxiety in that cohort, who are our future, would only go up.”

Warren said Monday that she seeks to halt these cuts, as they endanger throughout Massachusetts.

“I will fight to stop these significant cuts to NIH funding, which would put critical research programs here in Boston and across the Commonwealth at risk and hurt our economy,” she said in the press release.

Tufts Medical Center officials said they were pleased by the support of Warren and Menino at the press conference.

Malisa Schuyler, Director of Government Relations at Tufts, said it is important to focus on how institutions and programs will proceed if the cuts are made.

“There is a strong belief that private funding will take the place of NIH funding,” she said. “But when looking in other areas such as the foundational science and research that is done in some of the major drug discoveries, that is something that is very much supported by NIH, and we are very worried about seeing that get reduced.”

While Tufts Medical Center is still trying to gauge the magnitude of the cuts, Schuyler said it is important to look toward the future.

“It’s going to need some real smart minds to get together and say, ‘Ok, now that we have to deal with these cuts. How are we going to do it in a smart way?’” she said.

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