Newswise — With recent cuts to federally-sponsored research generated by sequestration, the biomedical research workforce already is beginning to erode. The expected ill effects on public health are significant, but they also are preventable.
Last week, Senator Durbin introduced the American Cures Act, which is designed to augment the federal investment in biomedical research and provide steady and predictable funding. The key phrase here is “steady and predictable.”
Funding for biomedical research is not a pipeline that can easily be switched on and off. By providing steady and predictable appropriations, Senator Durbin’s American Cures Act is helping to ensure not only that existing researchers will continue to pursue their important work, but that new researchers will be attracted to the field of biomedical research.
The need for Senator Durbin’s bill is immediate and urgent. In the absence of reliable funding, we have already seen a dangerous erosion to the research workforce. In the last four years, Loyola University Chicago’s PhD Program in the Biomedical Sciences has seen its entering class drop from 24 to 18 trainees. Last year alone, we experienced a 15% reduction in the number of individuals applying to the Program.
Fewer young researchers are entering the field of academic biomedical research. Statistics provided by NIH indicate that the age at which a creative and well-prepared scientist obtains his/her first independent NIH grant has increased dramatically, and is currently in the mid-40s.The current uncertainty in the federal investment of biomedical research is also discouraging young scientists from remaining in the field. Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine has a Dean’s Office Clinical Scholars (DOCS) program that focuses on development of early career MD scientists. Recently, more than half of our DOCS scholars have terminated their participation in the program, essentially discontinuing their pursuit of a scientific focus and shifting to careers centered on clinical care and medical education.
At Loyola University Chicago, our federally-supported biomedical research programs are addressing important public health concerns, including: burn and shock trauma (the leading cause of death for people under 40 years of age, and with an annual cost of over $130 billion); heart failure; and new therapies to ease the suffering of millions of people with inflammatory diseases.
Each of these programs will likely lead to prevention and treatment strategies that will improve our quality of life and reduce the financial burden of acute and chronic conditions. But neither these nor other equally important research initiatives at other institutions can advance if young scientists do not believe that the funding sources for them are reliable.
Federal support for research appropriations sends important messages to junior faculty and trainees about their future careers in science. We applaud Senator Durbin for his vision and leadership in proposing the American Cures Act. By augmenting and sustaining funding to our nation’s top four biomedical research agencies, this Act will help to insure the continued training of a workforce that will serve the health and economy of our nation for many future generations.
Richard L. Gamelli, MD, FACS Senior Vice President and ProvostLoyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division
Richard H. Kennedy, PhD, FAHAVice Provost, Research and Graduate ProgramsLoyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division