Investment in medical research saves lives, boosts economy
Cutting the federal budget deficit should not mean cutting money for medical research that has countered tuberculosis, HIV, heart disease, cancer and other conditions that diminish lives, says the dean of UW Medicine, Dr. Paul G. Ramsey.
Special to The Times
WITH the nation's economy in poor health, the congressional "super" committee appointed to propose areas for cuts to reduce the national deficit offered the promise of a cure. But when it ended deliberations without a proposal, it provided instead a bitter pill — $1.2 trillion in mandatory across-the-board cuts, half from defense and half from domestic programs, including medical research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
For millions of Americans and their families who suffer from serious illnesses and conditions, medical research provides hope for better health. Our nation's investment in NIH-funded medical research over the past 60 years has catalyzed many of the advances that now help Americans live longer and healthier lives.
Because of medical research, the death rate for heart disease is more than 60 percent lower — and the death rate for stroke, 70 percent lower — than in the World War II era. Cancer death rates have dropped 11.4 percent among women and 19.2 percent among men over the past 15 years because of better detection and more-effective treatments. Research related to HIV has helped increase survival for millions of people, while the average life span of an individual has never been higher.
UW Medicine's medical school and hospitals have played major roles in advancing medical science and improving health locally and globally. Advances led by University of Washington faculty include the development of a vascular shunt that made kidney dialysis possible, the treadmill test to diagnose heart disease, bone-marrow transplantation for leukemia and other cancers, and identification of the genetic basis for familial breast cancer. UW faculty co-founded Seattle's Medic One, a program that has saved thousands of lives locally and is a worldwide model.
Discoveries are coming out of UW Medicine weekly. Research funding has helped UW School of Medicine faculty make advances in fighting tuberculosis, HIV, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, color blindness, diabetes, Parkinson's, autism and many other diseases and conditions that diminish lives.
Medical research also improves our economic health. A new study by Tripp Umbach, a national economic consulting firm, found that federal- and state-funded research conducted in 2009 at the nation's medical schools and teaching hospitals supported nearly 300,000, or 1 in 500, U.S. jobs and added nearly $45 billion to the U.S. economy.
According to the study, Washington state is ninth in the nation for total economic impact of publicly funded research, adding nearly $1.8 billion to the economy in 2009 and supporting nearly 12,000 jobs. UW School of Medicine faculty were second in the nation in 2010 for generating NIH research funds, and first among public medical schools. This creates skilled jobs and new products that generate economic growth.
Not included in these figures are the economic impacts from this research that result from commercial application and costs savings, and the establishment of new local biotechnology companies including ZymoGenetics and ICOS, which have their roots in UW School of Medicine research.
American voters understand the importance of a long-term national investment in medical research. An Association of American Medical Colleges survey found that 62 percent of registered voters oppose significant cuts to medical research to trim the nation's budget deficit.
NIH is the largest single funder of basic medical research in the United States; the research it supports provides the foundation of knowledge that drives innovation and improves health. But reaping the full benefits of medical discoveries can take decades. That is why a long-term, sustained investment in medical research is essential.
We all want to reduce the federal budget deficit. But let's not jeopardize the next generation of cures — and further stress the economic health of our communities today — by cutting funding for medical research.Dr. Paul G. Ramsey is CEO of UW Medicine, executive vice president for medical affairs, and dean of the School of Medicine, University of Washington.