Federal investment in basic science research in the United States has improved the health and well-being of so many. We’ve seen advances in our understanding of illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and depression, as well as amazing developments in areas such as genetics and imaging technology. Discoveries that were unimaginable only a few years ago are now within our grasp. But in order to achieve them, increased federal funding for scientific research is essential.
The administration’s proposal to cut National Institutes of Health funding by $5.8 billion, or nearly 20 percent, would have devastating immediate and widespread repercussions on the scientific enterprise and the search for treatments for more than 1,000 debilitating brain and spinal cord diseases that directly affect more than 100 million Americans each year. We need to call on our members of Congress in both parties to instead make a firm decision that the U.S. will invest in the future of biomedical research as a top national priority.
As brain scientists and leaders of scientific societies, we know all too well the staggering economic and emotional toll of brain disorders. Take a single condition: More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2016, Alzheimer’s and other dementias alone cost the nation $236 billion annually, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And family members spend countless hours and dollars caring for loved ones with these conditions, sometimes putting their own well-being in peril. Then, fold in the impact of disorders such as autism, depression, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and drug and alcohol addiction. The case for increased investment in research is clear.
In addition to scientific research’s obvious benefit in easing human suffering, it is also an important economic engine for hundreds of communities nationwide. This research investment has a ripple effect, like a stone dropped in water. Every dollar of NIH research funding yields $2.21 in goods and services across the U.S., in just one year. Scientific research is a springboard for important industry activity and the jobs and infrastructure it creates.
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In 2015, Missouri institutions received more than $471 million in NIH funds, which directly supported 6,656 jobs and $1.15 billion in economic activity. Washington University in St. Louis consistently ranks in the top 10 U.S. universities in terms of NIH research funding, receiving more than $378 million in 2015.
And while neuroscience researchers at these institutions and hundreds more have made real advances in understanding the complexities of the brain and nervous system — including the causes of brain malfunction — there is much yet to be learned.
NIH research funding has long enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. Members from both parties recognize the proven impact of NIH funding on human health and the positive economic benefits that come with it. Missouri’s leaders in Congress understand this and support efforts to increase federal investment. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in particular has been instrumental in efforts to increase NIH and NSF funding as chair of the Senate subcommittee that funds the agencies.
We urge you to join us in strongly encouraging Congress to increase the federal investment in biomedical research. Today’s discoveries in the lab will pave the way for tomorrow’s treatments and cures, while serving as an engine of economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.
Eric J. Nestler is president of the Society for Neuroscience. David Holtzman is scientific director of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at Washington University in St. Louis.