The following op-ed by Cecilia Fox, associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Neuroscience Program, originally appeared in The Morning Call.
Over time, the U.S. investment in scientific research has paid off in the form of greater understanding of diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, and developments in imaging technology and genetics. And that federal investment must continue.
Scientific research plays an important role in finding treatments and cures for devastating brain diseases and disorders.
As a neuroscientist for 14 years at Moravian College, my research has focused on identifying protective therapies in rodent models of Parkinson's disease. Through this work, we have developed a better understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration. At Moravian, I have collaborated with numerous undergraduates who have moved on to prestigious medical and graduate schools. This next generation of scientists will be essential for treating and curing diseases.
But in addition to its obvious public health benefits, scientific research is also an important economic driver in the many communities, including Bethlehem and Allentown, where many people are employed in labs or work in supply chains, providing other parts of the country with pharmaceuticals. Pennsylvania ranks eighth in the country for the amount of research and development funding provided by industry and 11th for federal government R&D, according to Research!America.
Historically, the National Institutes of Health, the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, has had 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 along with it.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, who represents the 15th District, is a staunch advocate for biomedical research. He's a longtime member — and until recently the co-chair — of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus, which seeks to gain support for and increase knowledge in Congress about basic science and biomedical research.
Rep. Dent needs to hear from us — his constituents — that we truly value his leadership and that we need him to continue making a strong case for sustained government funding for biomedical research. This is especially important right now, in the wake of President Trump's proposal to cut NIH funding by $5.8 billion in FY2018, or nearly 20 percent, which would have devastating consequences for the future of scientific research and the search for treatments and cures. While charitable and corporate R&D efforts are essential to medical progress, they cannot replace the role of federal investments at places like NIH, the National Science Foundation and other agencies.
The 15th District is home to many institutions, both public and private, that conduct exciting neuroscience research. Lehigh Valley Health Network has an emphasis on stroke, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and neuropathic pain. LVHN researchers, for example, are conducting a study that uses PET scan imaging to view the brains of suspected Alzheimer's patients. This technology helps doctors identify Alzheimer's sooner.
St. Luke's University Health Network conducts a range of neuroscience clinical research, including stroke, chronic pain, and deep-brain stimulation trials. A St. Luke's research team recently pioneered work with a sophisticated implanted device that stimulates a patient's spinal cord to alleviate chronic pain.
At St. Luke's and LVHN, research is funded both by industry sponsors and NIH. Neuroscience researchers at these institutions and hundreds more nationwide have made real progress in understanding the brain and nervous system.
But there is so much yet to be learned. Why are some people more susceptible than others to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or Lou Gehrig's disease? What are the brain mechanisms responsible for autism, which can have profoundly different effects from child to child? What causes a person to be more vulnerable to opioid addiction?
Last year, NIH received a $2 billion boost to its budget, an important action to help address a decade of underfunding. Congress demonstrated its bipartisan support for the important health and scientific outcomes that can only be achieved with federal investment. We in the neuroscience community applaud Congress taking this long view. The work that my colleagues and I are conducting in labs and clinics nationwide will be all the better for it, and it's essential that this federal funding be maintained.
I urge you to join me in encouraging Rep. Dent and the entire Pennsylvania congressional delegation to reject the president's proposed draconian budget cuts and instead increase the federal investment in biomedical research.
Cecilia Fox is an associate professor of biological sciences and director of the Neuroscience Program at Moravian College in Bethlehem. She is also president of the Lehigh Valley Society for Neuroscience Chapter.