We don’t need no stinkin’ research...or do we?
Let me start off by saying I try not to be political in public. But since last year, I’ve found that my “advocate” voice works for other things and not just lung cancer. So here goes my first quazzi political blog.
Research. We’ve all heard the term. It’s a word that has many references…(okay, I’ll give you that one laugh!) Most of us at one time or another probably had to do a “research” paper. We research where to go for dinner, where to take a vacation, how to do a “Do It Yourself” project, find a home… We take that word for granted. Until the day comes and someone you love has a rare, chronic, or terminal disease. Then “research” takes on a whole different meaning: a quality of life meaning - a life-saving meaning.
Scientific research for diseases and illnesses are the lifeline and hope we all want: even one hour of medical research that has the potential to unravel your upside-down world and make everything all right. Medical research done at hospitals, universities, pharmaceutical companies and cancer centers provide us that small ounce of security that looks outside the box. Just look at history: without research we wouldn’t have vaccinations for childhood diseases, wouldn’t know that too much or too little insulin could cause diabetes, wouldn’t know about genetic diseases that can affect a family for generations. This list is very simplistic, but breakthroughs medical treatments have occurred because research matters.
Today, research hangs in the balance of the President’s budget. In his first budget submitted to Congress, the President proposed an immediate $1.2 billion dollar cut to the National Institute of Health (NIH) - an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. NIH is the largest source of funding in the world supporting scientific studies that turn discoveries into health. Can the President to this? Or do it immediately? Yes and no. The current funding is through a continuing resolution from appropriations. (I know it can be very confusing). And while it is Congress that holds the “purse strings” the President holds veto power over the Congress and can override what they vote and agree to.
So what does all that mean? At first I thought it meant that the NIH was going to lose research funding across the board, not just for cancer research. But then in a brief, closer look, the proposed immediate cuts are said to streamline the research process by cutting overhead paid to universities for lab equipment, staff (to be differentiated as non-research personnel), and utilities. But is that really what will be cut? Probably not.
Think of this “immediate cut” as trickle down research spending. First, the budget for NIH gets cut. That leads to fewer grants being awarded to cancer centers and universities. With less federal funding to those institutions fewer seasoned researchers will have funded studies. Fewer studies means fewer research assistants, PhD students, graduate students and undergraduate students wanting to pursue a “research” career—which leads to smaller programs. With less money for research, the innovative research we all talk about will cease. If it can’t be paid for it won’t get done. If these new ideas aren’t encouraged and given the tools to grow there is less hope.
Debby Boone is quoted as saying, “Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.” That is the definition of research! It starts with a dream a thought, an idea. The tool is the seed: planted in the hands of an inquisitive mind it will grow. And then we have change! In 2015 over 7 new drug discoveries came to the lung cancer community and helped save lives. Without that, we’d be right where we were 20 years ago when the only treatment for lung cancer was basic chemotherapy. Cutting the budget to NIH would have devastating consequences and cost more lives.
I get it. I’m sure many of us do. When we spend more than we make we have to cut back on what we spend. But do we cut out eating or paying the electricity? Or do we cut out Starbucks coffee, the weekly movie or premium cable channels? Cuts are cuts. It just depends on how they are implemented. Cutting NIH research in my opinion is not the way. I agree that research dollars should be used more efficiently but not by taking away the equipment or researchers.
Later this month, the proposed budget with these huge cuts to NIH will come up before Congress. Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
I urge us all to be informed and speak to our officials. They say it is six degrees of separation. How many Senators and Congressman have been touched by cancer in their family? How many had better treatment options because of current research, treatment options? How many would stand by and cut that hope from their constituents?
Together, we are stronger than lung cancer,
Ros Miller, President