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2020 federal budget won’t give enough money to science, and that directly harms Pa. | Opinion

In order to adequately fund NIH and NSF, Congress will also need to raise the artificial spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act, like they did in 2013, 2015, and 2018.

William Farquhar (center) with graduate student Olivia Sabik (right) and Professor Mete Civelek of the University of Virginia.
William Farquhar (center) with graduate student Olivia Sabik (right) and Professor Mete Civelek of the University of Virginia.Read moreHandout

Amid all the acrimony in Congress, finding common ground between the two parties is difficult. But one issue with bipartisan agreement is funding our nation’s biomedical research community. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have received broad congressional support from both sides of the aisle.

Funding these federal agencies directly benefits all states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. In 2018, Pennsylvania received $2.1 billion from NIH and NSF, Delaware $88.8 million, and New Jersey $453 million. These funds go to institutions throughout the states, supporting scientists, students, laboratory personnel, supplies, and equipment.

More critically, these funds support research to help us all live longer, healthier lives. Cancer and heart disease kill many Americans at an alarming rate, and NIH and NSF support helps fuel discoveries of the underlying mechanisms of these diseases, which is essential for developing novel therapies. While much progress has been made to reduce the burden of disease, there is still a tremendous amount of work to do.

Last week, I joined scientists from around the United States on Capitol Hill, where we met with many congressional offices to advocate for additional NIH and NSF support. Like the other scientists that descended on the Hill, I provided examples of research that improves the health and well-being of our nation.

I shared the story of an NIH-funded colleague, Dr. Melissa Witman, who is learning more about the genetic disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This devastating condition affects 1 in 5,000 boys born in the U.S., all of whom develop weakened muscles throughout their bodies. These children typically lose the ability to walk in their early teens, and by the age of 18, the vast majority develop severely weakened hearts.

Dr. Witman is performing a sophisticated assessment of heart and blood-vessel function in these children, in the hope of developing novel interventions to improve their quality of life. This important work could not be done without the support of NIH.

This is just one of thousands of examples of the public good resulting from NIH funding. Unfortunately, the White House just released its budget blueprint for fiscal year 2020, and it calls for a reduction in science funding. This is not a budget designed to invest in our nation’s future. The scientists who visited Washington last week advocated for increases in NIH and NSF funding. We recommended a budget of $41.6 billion for NIH in fiscal year 2020, and $9 billion for NSF, which represents just a sliver of the total federal budget.

To adequately fund NIH and NSF, Congress also will need to raise the artificial spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act, as it did in 2013, 2015, and 2018. Raising the caps will facilitate the funding of scientific research, and can be done in a fiscally responsible manner. Only through stable and sustained growth in research funding can we combat the diseases that kill the many, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as the heartbreaking diseases that affect the few, like Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

William B. Farquhar is a professor of kinesiology and applied physiology at the University of Delaware and a board member of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.