biomedical research_TS_149083695_100913
October 9, 2013

Federal Shutdown May Cost US Its Lead In Global Biomedical Research

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

The ongoing government shutdown is affecting more than parks and non-essential services; it’s also taking its toll on many research projects, some of which have been going on for many years. Researchers have lamented the possible loss of decades worth of research, as one small hiccup in the system can compromise entire experiments.

Now leaders and members of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) say the shutdown could even jeopardize America’s lead in global medical research and bioscience. As federal funds run dry for biology research, many labs have been forced to put an abrupt halt to their projects. This effectively destroys the momentum these researchers have spent years building and could mean the end of their work in some cases, according to the ASCB. The society gave a press conference earlier this week at the National Press Club to alert the public of the long-ranging negative effects the shutdown is having on many areas of work.

“As America keeps hitting the brakes on scientific research, we are, in effect, accelerating the damage done to our continued leadership in global bioscience, in health outcomes and in the economic power that we have always derived from basic research,” said Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi, ASCB’s executive director. Many researchers and laboratories get their funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH). With these organizations closed, so too is the research being done there.

“Americans will pay dearly for these slowdowns, sequestrations, and shutdowns in finding cures and on maintaining economic competitiveness,” continued Dr. Bertuzzi. "Today I am wondering what U.S. science will look like in a week, a month, five years from now."

In a cruel twist of fate, the ASCB was recently flying high about some of their members’ latest discoveries,  just before the federal shutdown cut off their funding.

“We identified a way to introduce gene silencing therapy to silence a gene in neurodegenerative disease,” said ASCB President Don W. Cleveland, PhD. "We wrote the grant application and now nothing is happening. We need public support."

Nobel Prize winner and ASCB member Carol Greider, Ph.D, said the shutdown isn’t just impacting research being done today, but it also threatens research to be done in the future by younger generations.

“It’s often assumed that the dollars they’re talking about are for fancy equipment but the bulk of the funding in my lab goes to training the future scientific leaders. This training is truly in jeopardy with the decreased funding,” said Greider.

At their recent press conference in Washington, the ASCB outlined their concerns over the shutdown, noting that with no funding, no new research can be done, and with no new research, America’s lead in the medical field could come to a grinding halt.

ASCB Director of Public Policy, Kevin Wilson, described the effects of the shutdown during the conference, saying: “Critical research at the NIH has been put on ice, sometimes literally.”