Science Funding in Turmoil

By Valerie Cohen

Science funding is currently facing an unsteady future, under President Trump’s proposed federal budget. While the full details of this budget will not be released until May, we do know that stark cuts will be made to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With a 17.9% reduction to the NIH budget and a 31% reduction to the EPA budget, cuts in operations for both agencies are a foregone conclusion. While careful spending is instrumental to government operations, the damage that large cuts would have on these agencies could be challenging to overcome.

The challenges that this scientific budget cut would introduce are very apparent in the proposed elimination of the Fogarty International Center, the only NIH institution explicitly cut in the current budget proposal. The Fogarty International Center’s mission is to bridge NIH research to the greater global health community by providing training and supporting the research of scientists in developing countries that collaborate with US researchers. The center funds research and training that aims to prevent the spread of Ebola and other potential pandemic diseases. It does so by providing sufficient training to scientists in those regions that they have the technical knowledge to identify and halt the spread of the disease. Its trainees have done critical groundwork in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and Ebola in Africa.  While it may seem fiscally irresponsible to fund public health interests abroad rather than focusing on efforts here, such a view is short-sighted. In our global society, an epidemic in another country could easily spread here and cost us significantly more money in the long-term than preventative spending would.

The reach of the Fogarty International Center extends beyond the study and prevention of pandemic disease. The center has also enabled the launch of an Alzheimer’s prevention trial, the first of its kind, in which they treat individuals in rural Colombia who are genetically destined to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s with medication that will hopefully reduce or prevent the symptoms and development of the disease.[i] Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to cost Medicare and Medicaid $175 billion in 2017.[ii] The 69.1 million dollar budget of the Fogarty International Center seems a small cost to pay if it puts a dent in the medical costs and emotional suffering caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

While cutting wasteful spending is critical to balancing the federal budget, eliminating the Fogarty International Center would cost more money in the long-term than it would save in the present. The fact is that NIH spending provides a large return on its investment. The Human Genome project is estimated to have had a financial return of $178 for every dollar spent.[iii] The NIH is the largest funder of biomedical research in the world.[iv] Every state has received funds from the NIH, and, therefore, it is in the best interest of Congress to protect the NIH budget.

While this budget has been proposed by President Trump, it still needs congressional approval. Within 6 weeks of the presidential budget being submitted, Congress works to reconcile a detailed budget, and the House completes action on the appropriations bills in late June. Therefore, we encourage all members and supporters of the scientific community to contact their representatives and reiterate their support for funding scientific research. Without restoration of science funding in the Congressional budget, research in the US would face irreparable damage.
Read more on the White House’s budget blueprint here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/2018_blueprint.pdf

i. https://www.fic.nih.gov/News/Pages/2012-alzheimer-prevention-trial-colombia.aspx\

ii. http://www.alz.org/facts/

iii. The Impact of Genomics on the U.S. Economy.” Batelle Technology Partnership Practice, for United for Medical Research, 2013.http://www.battelle.org/docs/health-and-pharmaceutical/the-impact-of-genomics-on-the-u-s-economy-june-11-final.pdf?sfvrsn=0

iv. https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/impact-nih-research/our-society