Thousands Rally To Protest Sequestration Cuts To Medical Research Programs

Thousands of researchers, patients, doctors, scientists, and advocates gathered outside of Carnegie Library in Washington DC to protest sequestration cuts towards medical research. Organizers estimated that the Rally for Medical Research, protesting budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health, had around 10,000 attendees. “When [Congress] sees a grassroots movement rising up from doctors, from scientists, from advocates, and patients, you become impossible to ignore,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) told the crowd.

Speakers included Margaret Foti, CEO of the American Association for Cancer research, actress and breast cancer survivor Maura Tierney, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and former Illinois Rep John Edward Porter. Alongside personal stories about battles with disease, the speakers called for researchers and others to lobby Congress to spare the National Institutes of Health from the mandatory 5 percent cuts it faces as part of sequestration.

The NIH lost $1.6 billion in funding under the initial round of cuts that went into effect on March 1, putting medical research and jobs at risk. Those cuts, according to the event’s speakers, will have a devastating effect on the biomedical science enterprise and other medical research efforts by requiring arbitrary funding cuts that will prevent critical research projects from reaching completion. The cuts will affect and even halt research into different types of cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.

Dr. Donna Arnett, president of the American Heart Association, said the rally was intended to serve as a strong reminder to Congress that the health of the nation depends on medical research. “Unless we restore NIH funding now, the treatment or cure you or your family will desperately need in the future may never be discovered,” Arnett said. “We will not give up this fight.”

This research doesn’t just change and save lives — it also helps the American economy. NIH will lose $12.5 billion over the year according to research estimates, and that hit could cost the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth over the next nine years while resulting in the loss of 500,000 jobs. Federal investment into the human genome project from 1988 to 2003, for instance, drove nearly $800 billion in economic activity, according to event organizers.

Dr. Marc Trevor Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist and president of The Rockefeller University in New York City, sees the funding cuts to NIH research as destructive. But he added another perspective to the funding problem. “Basic science is key to economic well-being and scientific advances,” said Dr. Tessier-Lavigne. “But funding cuts are also turning young people away from careers in science and this will have a tremendous impact on our ability to innovate in the future, which is one of America’s greatest strengths.”

Our guest blogger is Andrew Rutkowski, an intern with the ThinkProgress War Room.