Fred Kowal: NIH Budget Cut

Apr 20, 2017

In the flurry of attention being paid to questions surrounding the role of Russia in our last presidential election, the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula and in Syria, and endless attention being paid to President Trump’s Twitter adventures, what has been lost is a necessary focus on the President’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. 

As president of the nation’s largest higher education union, many elements of the budget concern me.  This includes cuts to higher education assistance programs, massive cuts in environmental protection, and the massive shift of resources to unnecessary and extravagant defense spending. 

But, perhaps most serious of all in terms of their impact on the search for knowledge about our world and our life in this world, are proposed cuts of $5.8 billion, or 20 percent, to the National Institutes of Health.  If approved, the draconian cuts would drain crucial funding used to research cures for diseases, short-circuit medical research, shutter labs and would be a devastating blow to scientific progress. 

I find it mind-boggling to think that the Trump Administration would consider such a drastic move. The consequences of Trump’s shortsighted budget will hit home here in New York. SUNY’s teaching hospitals and health sciences centers in Brooklyn, Buffalo, Stony Brook and Syracuse are international leaders in medical research. UUP members receive nearly $40 million in N-I-H grants annually to take on critical health issues like Alzheimer’s disease, pediatric illnesses, cancer, immune system diseases, cardiac problems and addiction.

At SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, researchers are expanding an earlier study on how Alzheimer’s affects the brain, possibly leading to clinical trials for new drug treatments. At SUNY Buffalo’s health sciences center, research is underway to help doctors improve their diagnoses of recovery from concussions, which could help student athletes, members of the military and accident victims. Brooklyn’s Downstate Medical Center is using an N-I-H grant to identify the genetic risks for schizophrenia and other major mental illnesses.

Research fueled by N-I-H grants have already brought us such advances as blood-thinning drugs to prevent strokes, cholesterol-lowering statins to fight heart disease, and medications to treat depression.

And what of the hard-working scientists and researchers who graduated from New York’s leading medical schools and stayed to continue their careers? If the federal grants vanish, many of these talented individuals will go overseas to do their work. Our nation would lose its mantle as the global center of medical and scientific discovery.       

With his stunning budget cuts, Trump is willing to trade the health and well-being of Americans for short-term political gains. In his April 3rd speech, former Vice President Joe Biden said that this no time to undermine scientific progress. It’s time to “double down,” he said, and to “deliver on the promise of science and technology to extend and improve lives.”

I’m going to strongly urge Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and New York’s House delegation to reject this insidious budget cut to the National Institutes of Health. 

Trump’s proposal to decimate the N-I-H cannot stand.  For the well-being of our Nation’s health and the future lives of the world’s population, the search for knowledge and understanding must not be derailed by short-term ideologically driven political grandstanding.  At this crucial time in our world’s history, we cannot allow ignorance to win the day over science.  

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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