Rx: Speak up!

AHA advocates from MA

Let’s be honest. It feels good to have a voice, to be a champion, to stand up for issues that you believe in. Too many times, we grumble and complain but do not take the opportunity to stand up and say something about it. Maybe it’s something about work, or home, or a larger political issue. This week I had the chance to step up and have a voice.

I spent the first two days of this week in Washington advocating on behalf of the American Heart Association for 2013’s You’re the Cure on the Hill. Alongside CEO Nancy Brown, current President Donna Arnett, and advocates from almost every state in the US, we met with offices of our state’s representatives to advocate for several issues. We were there to push for two major issues:

  1. Restoration of NIH funding
  2. Support for the Million Hearts initiative

For me, it was about the issues but also about having an opportunity to stand up and have a voice. Here’s my take on why issue #1 is of such critical importance. Stay tuned for more info on issue #2.

Restoration of funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

With the 2013 sequester, $1.5 billion (about 5%) was cut from the NIH’s budget. These cuts are expected to result in 2300 grants not being funded and 20,000 jobs lost nationwide, estimated to reduce new economic activity by nearly $3 billion. In addition, while NIH funding has increased in past years, the levels have not kept pace with inflation, so in real dollars, funding levels were already declining.

Having a personal stake in this, here’s why this matters to me:

Young investigators will leave science

Worse yet, bright young people will be discouraged from pursuing a career in science to begin with. Tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs and medical advances begin with today’s research. We will lose a generation of scientists who will be making tomorrow’s discoveries.

On a personal level, I wrote a great grant that got a great score that’s not going to get funded. In today’s tight funding environment, it is harder to get funding from the NIH now than it was for me to get into Harvard University for college. In fact, it is expected that only the top 6% of grants submitted to the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) will get funded this coming year. Moreover, I have colleagues who are fearful the funding they have already been allocated may be taken back.

It is discouraging to do a job where you reach your goal only 6% of the time. As I said, young investigators will leave science. It’s short-sighted and it’s a shame.

Tomorrow’s medical advances begin with today’s scientific breakthroughs

My delegation from Massachusetts included two remarkable individuals. One was Dr. Elliott Antman, a cardiologist with me at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a long-term clinical researcher with the TIMI study group, and President-elect of the AHA. Dr. Antman has done some of most important research on heart attack care. One of the earliest studies he was involved in was on the use of a ‘clot-busting’ medication for the treatment of heart attacks, work done in the early 1980s.

The other was survivor Bernie Dennis. In 1995, Bernie had his first of several heart attacks. He survived in part because received a ‘clot-busting’ medication, benefiting from the work that Dr. Antman had done nearly 15 years prior.

I’ll say it again. Tomorrow’s medical advances begin with today’s research.  Who knows what we will be missing in 15 years by the research that is not getting funded and not being performed now.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

I am no economist. But I have seen first hand the effects of cutting grant funding. Our research group can no longer support a research coordinator and a research nurse. Two jobs gone. Nationwide, the cuts to NIH funding are expected to lead to 20,000 jobs lost and more than 1700 in Massachusetts alone. Science has a trickle down effect on the economy.

So here is what we are asking for:

To appropriate $32 billion to restore NIH funding for FY 2014 to pre-sequester levels and to get the NIH back on track.

Some of you may be asking why we should allocate money to research when we need money for jobs or roads or bridges and everything else. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we do not need funding for these important things. I just think we need to understand and highlight why money for science matters now and for the future.

Last point. It’s fun to have a voice. If you have an issue that’s important you to, whatever it may be, pick up the phone and call your local or federal elected officials, write a letter, or find out how you can be an advocate on behalf of an organization.

Rx: speak up!


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