If President Trump Cuts NIH Funding, We All Lose

National Institute of Health research team in lab.

Photo caption: Youngmi Ji, Ph.D., research fellow, conducts research in the NIAMS Cartilage Biology and Orthopaedics Branch. The lab’s research focuses on understanding specific orthopaedic pathologies to better facilitate clinical translation of lab results to medical therapies.

By Ajay K. Singh, MBBS, FRCP, MBA
March 21, 2017

Adrienne Lafrance writing in the Atlantic:

“The work of a scientist is often unglamorous. Behind every headline-making, cork-popping, blockbuster discovery, there are many lifetimes of work. And that work is often mundane. We’re talking drips-of-solution-into-a-Petri-dish mundane, maintaining-a-database mundane. Usually, nothing happens.”

Lafrance continues: “Scientific discovery costs money—quite a lot of it over time—and requires dogged commitment from the people devoted to advancing their fields. Now, the funding uncertainty that has chipped away at the nation’s scientific efforts for more than a decade is poised to get worse.”

The recent budget proposed by the Trump administration, if passed, will cut the NIH budget by nearly 20%. This will most certainly affect both intra- and extramural NIH funding. Since about 80% of NIH’s funding is extramural, the impact on research institutions around the country will be devastating. Still, even more demoralizing is the potential effect on individual researchers. The figure below shows that the success rate for NIH funding is currently less than 20%. If the Trump budget plan prevails, the funding rate will plummet even further. Promising research will not get done.

NIH Funding graph

If this cut was not bad enough, the Trump budget seeks to shut down the NIH’s Fogarty International Center. While the budget of the Fogarty Center is relatively small  (≈69 million dollars), it’s mission is important at a time of emerging global infectious threats: funding training programs in global health and supporting global projects that include research into HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and Zika.

In a statement introducing the budget, Mick Mulvaney the director of the Office of Management and Budget, says “I am proud to introduce the ‘America First’ budget.”

Cutting funding for the NIH is not placing America First.

If American science loses, the country loses. Slashing NIH funding destabilizes science all over the country – institutions will lose precious support from indirect funding, and investigators will not receive direct funding for promising projects, which will likely be terminated in the thousands. Crucial infrastructure will be dismantled. And, young people aiming for a career in bench or clinical science, will have their dreams dashed.

The cut in funding will destabilize science and everything science stands for at a very critical juncture. It will take our eyes off the prize – of curing disease and relieving human suffering. And, it will send a message to the rest of the world, that America is readying itself to give up as the world’s leader in science.

This is not enhancing America’s security. This is not putting “America First.”

[NIH photo credit:
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health]

Ajay Singh, MBBS, FRCPDr. Ajay K. Singh is the Senior Associate Dean for Global and Continuing Education and Director, Master in Medical Sciences in Clinical Investigation (MMSCI) Program at Harvard Medical School. He is also Director, Continuing Medical Education, Department of Medicine and Renal Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.


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