The federal budget sequestration is hurting our court system, our air traffic controllers, and kids in Head Start programs. Oh, and Johns Hopkins is feeling the pain, too — $70 million worth of pain, in fact.
That’s the amount of federal funding for biomedical research that Hopkins Medicine has lost since Congress mandated spending cuts several months ago. Even before the sequester, it was tough to get a grant approved by the NIH; only 17 percent of applicants ended up getting funding. Post-sequester, it’s even tougher. From Johns Hopkins alone, more than a dozen peer-reviewed grants fizzled, some of them targeting major health issues such as cancer, HIV, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
“Who knows which one of those grants might have been the next breakthrough in cancer?” asked Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, at a news conference earlier this month. Collins was joined by Senator Barbara Mikulski, Paul B. Rothman, dean of the Hopkinsmedical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System. Mikulski argued that biomedical research could actually save the government money in the long run: “If you want to save money in Medicaid, don’t increase the eligibility requirements. Increase biomedical research and let the talented people in our country be able to do their job,” she said at the conference.
The overall loss of funding to the NIH and other sources of funding for biomedical research is estimated to be upwards of $1.5 billion. Along with the shrinking biomedical research funding, the university is also faced with de-funded defense contracts and less Medicare money.
In an annual meeting of researchers and scientists held in DC last week, the sequestration was public enemy #1. Part of the problem, everyone agreed, was that dried-up funding doesn’t have immediate, awful consequences (like, of, say, not letting air traffic controllers have a day off). Instead, things get worse slowly, over a long period of time. “If you have a family member who has a heart attack, what happens now is we can save people from a heart attack even if they drop over and turn blue because we can put in a stent into the main artery that’s been blocked,” said Thomas Skalak of the University of Virginia. “What happens then is over a period of five, 10, 15 years, they have progressive heart failure. Well, there is research that has just discovered the type of cell that may be able to regenerate both the muscle cells in the heart as well as the blood vessel. So if you want your family members to have access to a regenerated heart, regaining them 20 years of life — productive, high quality life — those kinds of losses will be the losses we experience from today’s cuts.”