Posted by on September 13, 2013 - 3:22pm

Last Tuesday’s New York Times article painted an unpleasant picture of the state of scientific research due to cutbacks with the sequestration. The $1 trillion in budget cuts have significantly slowed research momentum, which could lead to major setbacks in the health world. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, described 2013 as the “darkest” year to date for the agency, whose budget is suffering and distributing smaller numbers of grants than ever. What is most dangerous about these grant cutbacks is that researchers are forced to “tread water” rather than focus their energies exploring new and bold ideas, and “science is very badly served by that tread-water message.”

Stagnation in the scientific world is essentially a death sentence for innovative breakthroughs, discoveries that could lead to the emergence of new cures. Director of the Center for Computational Biology at Johns Hopkins University, Steven Salzberg, laments the loss of science by arguing that shorter grant cycles force scientist to not only scramble to obtain results more quickly, but also compels them to spend more time bogged down with paperwork than actually engaging in laboratory work. Regrettably these significant changes to the research landscape discourage younger scientists from persisting in this field.

Dr. Teresa Woodruff shares similar viewpoints to her collegiate colleagues by stating that the sequestration is about “more than red tape and bureaucracy,” it’s about threatening the lives of patients counting on innovations made through research. In her published opinion letter responding to this article, Dr. Woodruff lists diabetes, cancer, infertility, osteoporosis, hypertension, and thyroid conditions as just a handful of the ailments whose research is being hindered by the government’s cutbacks. Dr. Woodruff stresses that, “when laboratories lose financing, they lose people, ideas, innovations, and patient treatments.” Until government leaders prioritize biomedical research, the potential for fresh ideas, innovations, and cures to come to fruition will continue to diminish.

Posted by on March 26, 2013 - 12:28pm
Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD

An amendment to increase biomedical research at the National Institute of Health(NIH) passed by unanimous consent on March 22.  The Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern applauds the introduction of a bipartisan amendment by our own Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and others to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the FY 2014 Budget Resolution  We are grateful to have champions that recognize the extraordinary medical advancements made possible by NIH and its role as an economic engine, creating jobs and supporting economic activity across the nation.

Our Institute Director Teresa Woodruff and her work was cited in Senator Durbin's official remarks supporting the amendment:

"Insufficient funding and cuts to NIH will force the agency to not award some grants. And it may need to reduce awards that have already been announced. Research and clinical trials that have already started are less likely to be given funding to continue, so promising projects will be terminated, suspended or forced to lay off workers.  I would like to share the story of Dr. Teresa Woodruff, a researcher and professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Woodruff is leading one of the first major studies on the impact of superfund environmental toxins on reproductive health. Her work could help us understand the health risks of certain chemicals and how pollutants enter the human body. The Monday after sequestration took effect, Dr. Woodruff was delighted to learn that the NIH had awarded funding for her research, but disappointed to learn that--due to sequestration--the grant was cut by more than half.

Dr. Woodruff is thankful for the NIH funding, but this cut means she will have to drop key parts of her research, like studying the impact of toxins on men and children and how pollutants end up in the food we eat. Because of the drastic cut in funding, Dr. Woodruff will not hire new people and will have fewer training slots to teach the next generation of scientists. Dr. Woodruff's experience is being played out across the country as promising researchers are forced to stall clinical trials and lay off support staff."

According to the United for Medical Research, the NIH’s budget has already suffered a 20 percent decline in the last decade,  and the devastating impact of the March 1st sequester, which could lead to the loss of more than 20,000 jobs and $3 billion in economic activity, has already begun to be felt. Morale among the best and brightest scientific talent is already alarmingly low, even as they stand on the brink of unprecedented scientific opportunity, and we are in real danger of losing an entire generation of medical innovators. It is critical that we restore the $1.5 billion from the NIH’s budget so we our nation can be a leader in medical advancement.