No time to be timid: Supporters of science funding must speak out – Commercial Appeal

Last week a new mother of twins in Columbus, Ohio, sent a text message to her doctor:

“Adam and I would like to introduce you to Ava Jain Cullum and Piper Jain Cullum. Their middle name was a no-brainer since we are so thankful for the huge role you had in getting them into this world… Both girls are doing fantastic. We are over the moon excited to have them in our arms.”

What’s unique is the “no-brainer” middle name “Jain” – chosen by the parents in honor of their doctor, who is my cousin and a specialist in fertility and reproductive medicine, Dr. Akas Jain.

The Cullums tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby, and then they sought the help of a specialist. Yet the miracle worker whose expertise contributed to the birth of the twins was not Dr. Akas Jain, but thousands of scientists and researchers whose hard work over decades have made fertility therapy a reality.

In some ways we doctors are merely the deliverers of the therapy, which has been postulated, prepared and piloted, by innovators toiling at the lab bench and bedside day and night.

Much of this research in the United States is funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and many other government agencies which support the national laboratories. And proudly our tax dollars go toward this collective success and innovation, “the U. S. Crown Jewel,” which gives lives, saves lives and prevents death, as well as being an economic engine.

We boast a 43 percent drop in all-cause mortality over a half-century, thanks to research by NIH scientists. Research and efforts in just the last six years on hospital-associated infections have led to 125,000 lives saved, with over $28 billion in cost savings.

Yet we are about to see a dramatic change, unless Congress continues its historic bipartisan support of science. Last month the Trump administration proposed cutting NIH funding by nearly 20 percent, in effect crippling innovation, invention and scientific medical research. The new budget titled “America First” would take away $5.8 billion from NIH, the largest cut proposed in its 90-year history.

I wonder, with such draconian cuts what will happen to our dream of curing cancer, eliminating infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika, or finding new treatments for diabetes and heart disease within our lifetimes?

An HIV patient in my clinic for whom I have cared for two decades is working, healthy and raising two beautiful teenagers. She even gave birth to the children while she was HIV positive and taking medications – medications developed with support from NIH-funded research a quarter century ago. Today, she manages a group of a dozen computer engineers, providing jobs and livelihoods for them and their families.

Contrary to the prevailing belief, the NIH budget of $32 billion does not fund a group of scientists or laboratories on the federal payroll in Washington DC. Rather 80 percent of the NIH funds support biomedical research and training programs across the nation, including 300,000 investigators at 2,500 universities. In my younger days I too was a recipient of such a grant, and it helped make me who I am today.

If such cuts move forward, a generation of basic research scientists will be lost. Soon America will become second to China, which is training more PhDs in the natural sciences and engineering than we are. And China’s investment in research and development will surpass the US investment in just a few years.

To protest the cuts and the overall disregard of the new administration toward science, from climate change to environmental protection, a March for Science was held in Washington and across the country on Earth Day, April 22. Tens of thousands of scientists left their labs and in white coats walked in Washington.

Those of us, doctors and scientists, who live the science every day and see its miracles must not be quiet or timid at this time. We need to let our colleagues, patients and political representatives know how we are touched and how we touch other lives by the miracles of science each and every day.

Science is the truth we can bet our life on. A couple in Columbus, Ohio, did this and, now they have fantastic miracles, twin girls, in their lives, with the help of government funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Commercial Appeal

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