U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney Goes to Bat for Scientific Research on Capitol Hill
As Congress debates strategies for deficit reduction, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, is cautioning Congressional members to consider the role federal funding has in achieving scientific breakthroughs before enacting spending cuts.
Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives on Nov. 18, Ms. Maloney asserted that the federal government's investments in research can spur advances for some of the most challenging medical conditions while serving as an engine fueling growth for the nation, particularly crucial in the current stagnant economy.
|"We must continue to invest in the basic research and in the dedicated young scientists who make it all possible."
– Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY
"We are now engaged in an important national debate about federal spending, about how much and where to cut federal spending, and I wish to make the case for how reckless and short-sighted it would be to cut into the budget lines that fund the kind of vital, basic research that leads to discovery, innovation and economic growth," said Ms. Maloney, who represents District 14, encompassing Manhattan's Upper East Side and parts of Queens.
Last summer, Congress established a special committee tasked to identify federal spending cuts to rein in the deficit by Nov. 23. The committee is deadlocked, triggering $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years to the military and domestic programs, starting in 2013. It is unclear how budgets for scientific research will be affected, though it is likely that they won't be spared.
Through a series of hearings last year, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, at the time headed by Ms. Maloney, determined that despite the intrinsic value of research, it is typically under-funded by the private sector because it has "no specific commercial applications in mind," according to its report.
As a result, 60 percent of all funding for research and development comes from the federal government. The NIH invests more than $31.2 billion for medical research each year.
Maloney touted the work of researchers whose discoveries were NIH-funded — among them the polio vaccine, anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS and new treatments for multiple sclerosis, such as Gilenya, the first oral medication for relapsing-remitting forms of MS. Since 1970, the FDA has approved more than 150 drugs or new indications for existing drugs discovered in university laboratories, most of which have been funded by the NIH.
In her speech, Ms. Maloney praised NIH funding for being a driver of economic development, mentioning specifically the work of Dr. Samie Jaffrey, an associate professor in the pharmacology department at Weill Cornell Medical College, who developed a tool that tracks the workings of various forms of cellular RNA by causing them to emit a green fluorescent light. This discovery will help researchers unlock the secrets of how RNA sustains human life as well as contributes to disease. Dr. Jaffrey recently established a biotechnology company in New York, based on this NIH-supported research, to develop drugs for diseases caused by RNA metabolic defects.
Ms. Maloney gave several other examples of how research supports economic growth. Founded on discoveries made in university labs and supported by NIH grants, Genentech, a leading biotech company based in San Francisco now employs more than 11,000 people and manufactures drugs that treat certain forms of leukemia, arthritis and breast cancer.
Continued federal funding is requisite to pioneer new medical breakthroughs that can tackle diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, AIDS, autism and schizophrenia, she said.
"Because of the basic research we have funded, these health advances were made possible," Ms. Maloney said. "If we are going to remain competitive in the global economy, if we hope to remain a leader in the area of biotechnology, if we hope to continue to advance the world's understanding and treatment of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, we must continue to invest in the basic research and in the dedicated young scientists who make it all possible."
To watch Maloney's speech in its entirety, skip to 06:13:00.