Friday, May 25, 2012

Research… a story, a call to action

This blog is about a shift that is dangerous – and unnecessary – for our country.  It offers a story and a call to action from the American Thoracic Society.

Since I was a boy – and that was a long, long time ago – the greatness of this nation’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) was a given fact.  Over many decades, much of the medical research funding that led to increases in knowledge and advancement came out of NIH.  Founded in 1887,  they built a system that worked.
It is a system that is now being given to other nations.

On April 26, as a member of the American Thoracic Society’s Research Advocacy Committee (RAC), I participated in visits to the offices of ten Members of Congress.
Here’s the good news.  As we visited Senate and House offices representing Maryland, North Carolina and Louisiana, virtually all said that they had received calls that day about PHA’s Bill, the Tom Lantos Research and Education Act.  (April 26 was also PHA’s National Call-in to Congress Day…our members were effective, as always.)

Now the bad news.
A key talking point for our visits was asking Congress to support NIH funding.
As we made our visits, a researcher who I spent the day with put it best.
She pointed out to Congressional staff that NIH is the world’s leader in groundbreaking biomedical research for the prevention, treatment and cure of diseases. Yet, due to eroded funding, NIH is able to fund about 10% of highly meritorious scientific research.  That number used to be over 30%.
She went on to explain what that means in real terms…

“Young U.S. doctors are no longer coming into the field.  When 10% of grants are funded and the competition is among the brightest minds in the world, even if a researcher gets their first five year grant, it’s not likely they will be able to get a second grant to allow them to stay in the field.  Young researchers understand this.  After I got my current grant and advertised to staff my project, all the applicants were from China and India, not one was from the U.S.  They will take knowledge from here and go home and the U.S. will be poorer for it.”
Listening to her, I was reminded of an experience I had several years ago, flying back from Chinese and Taiwanese PH association meetings.  About an hour into the flight, I started talking to the passenger next to me.  When he heard that I was from Maryland, he said, “I used to live there, in Bethesda.  I used to work at NIH”.  When I asked him what brought him back to Taiwan, he said, “Well, I’m a researcher in oncology.  The research money has dried up in the U.S.  Research money is flowing in Asia”.  That was in 2007.  The situation is a lot worse today.
Well, that’s the story…here’s the American Thoracic Society’s call to action…
ATS’s Research Advisory Committee recently wrote a paper titled, The Case for Increased Funding for Research in Pulmonary and Critical Care. 
The Abstract appears onthe ATS website , prior to print publication, opening with these words:
“The current economic and political climate places future funding of the NIH and other federal biomedical research programs in jeopardy. This Perspective seeks to arm the diverse membership of the ATS with the information necessary to understand and articulate the value of biomedical research in their respective communities.”
ATS has asked PHA and other organizations to help circulate the paper.  So that you can have full access to it, we have placed a copy on the PHA website. I encourage you to read, , The Case for Increased Funding for Research in Pulmonaryand Critical Care. 
It is compelling.  It is important.  It is a call to action we need to heed before it is too late.


  1. I read the paper,,,it says nothing about Pulmonary Hypertension. I have it, I am told there is no cure. We need money to research this disease and find a cure for it.

    1. PH isn't the only disease needing more research. Though important (& I have it, too), research seemingly unrelated to PH can be helpful to our cause.

  2. I think the time has come for all of us in this field to begin thinking more creatively regarding dollars for research instead of automatically looking to a broke government to cover costs. Let's think of methods to tap the private community and I don't mean holding bake or garage sales. We need more money than that. Let's tap the scions of industry. Looking forward to other comments on this.

  3. I posted a bit more detail on the PHA Facebook page and here's an expanded restatement of that. Despite our small number of patients, PHA has never been an organization to just ask; we partner. PHA and NIH have been partnering for PH research since 2003. Each year PHA commits about $312,000 and NIH up to $500,000 to support over $800,000 in grants (listed in research section of PHA website). These are major grants, each running up to 5 years, one new one per year, 5 active at any given time. NIH does a lot more, too through NHLBI. I'm not sure how large their research portfolio for PH is now but several years ago it was over $30 million. (I've asked for an update and hope to have that from them soon.) We have a big stake in their ability to continue. The PHA/NIH partnership grantees can be seen at http://​​page.aspx?pid=1296 Also, the funding PHA commits for research comes from our members who organize events within their communities and donate individually. NIH, the American Thoracic Society and others leverage the funding PHA's donors provide for greater impact. Also, several years ago Oracle endowed one of our research grants, allowing it to continue into the future. Such things happen as a result of strong contacts and/or direct interest in this field. I hope this is helpful to the conversation.