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Researchers at ASH express concern with fiscal cliff


ATLANTA – Like many of their fellow physicians, oncologists and hematologists are concerned about the across-the-board federal budget cuts looming on the other side of the fiscal cliff.

At its recently concluded annual meeting, the American Society of Hematology surveyed abstract presenters and found that two-thirds are reliant on the National Institutes of Health for some or all of their research funding.

Should sequestration go into effect in January, the NIH budget is expected to be cut by about $2.5 billion. The agency "would have to halt or curtail scientific research, including needed research into cancer and childhood diseases," according to a report from the federal Office of Management and Budget.

Such cuts, according to ASH leaders, will discourage young scientists from pursuing a career in research, and if left in place would eventually dismantle the teaching support structure.

A total of 86% of U.S.-based survey respondents reported that they had referenced NIH-funded studies in their research. Three-quarters said they were "extremely concerned" about the threat of NIH budget cuts and the impact on their careers.

"We could lose a generation of scientists," Dr. Janis L. Abkowitz, president of ASH, said in an interview. The research field may not look any different for a few years, but "eventually, we will lose the competitive edge in research. It’s as if we’re giving up on science."

In 2011, roughly 18% of projects received R01 grant funding, the major funding mechanism for individual projects. That’s compared with 22% in 2010, 25%-32% in 1993-2003, and 45%-58% in 1962-1966, according to an article coauthored by Dr. Abkowitz (JAMA 2012;308:2343-4).

The article also challenges other professional societies to bring the issue to the forefront and create programs such as the ASH bridge grant program to help fund researchers caught in sequestration’s grip that otherwise would lose their funding.

Dr. Abkowitz, head of the division of hematology at the University of Washington, Seattle, said that funding from pharmaceutical companies doesn’t fill the gap for cuts in NIH funding, because drug companies invest in ideas that are developed and that have commercial possibilities, she said.

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