Zurawik: Oprah soars in HBO's 'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

Trump has a 'dimness of vision' regarding science

You have a sudden dimness of vision in one eye and a feeling of weakness. Something is wrong. You call to your wife and at the same time have the sense to dial 911. That's the last thing you remember before waking up in the emergency room, staring up into the faces of your wife and children. The doctor comes into view and tells you are going to be fine. You were given a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). He explains that you had a stroke caused by a blot clot in the brain. tPA was given to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the brain.

Now imagine this happened, but tPA wasn't available to you.

The National Institutes of Health are the largest funders of biomedical research in the world, with a mission to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.

In 1995, an NIH-funded clinical trial established the first FDA-approved treatment for the most common type of stroke, the drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). In fact, since 1950, the stroke mortality rate has decreased by 79 percent, due in part to NIH-funded research on treatments and prevention, including the study of tPA.

Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 2 killers worldwide, according to the American Heart Association's 2016 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update. However, deaths from heart disease fell 67.5 percent from 1969 to 2013, through research advances supported in large part by NIH.

Between 2003 and 2012, research funded by NIH also led to a 15 percent drop in overall cancer deaths and has led to the development cancer immunotherapy, which is fast becoming an integral part of precision cancer therapy.

When the HIV/AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s, an infected individual did not expect to live more than a few years. Now, because of collaborative efforts between industry and NIH, HIV treatments can suppress the virus to undetectable levels and infected individuals can expect to live into their 70s.

Twenty-six of every 1,000 babies born in the United States died before their first birthday in 1960. By 2013, that rate had fallen to under 6 per 1,000 babies, thanks in large part to NIH research associated with reducing preterm births and neonatal mortality.

Maybe most impressive is that life expectancy of the average American increased by eight years, from 70.8 to 78.8, between 1970 and 2013. This is in large part because of research, funded by NIH, that has led to a better understanding, diagnosis and therapy of health-related problems around the world.

President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget would cut nearly $6 billion (about 20 percent of the total budget) from the NIH, despite his campaign promise that a Trump administration would work to cure diseases — not hinder or even prevent the development of cures — through new therapies.

NIH funding flows to more than 2,600 institutions around the country and creates more than 313,000 full- and part-time jobs. This administration's proposed budget cut will have a devastating effect on the progress of science around the world, and the effects will be long lasting. Few new scientists will be able to be trained, and few new projects will be started. Young scientists who have already completed their Ph.D.s and are trying to get their first research grants may look to other countries for research opportunities. The Trump administration is proposing a "major reorganization of NIH's" 27 institutes, which would include eliminating the $70 million Fogarty International Center, which focuses on global health by supporting research and training researchers to work in developing countries. Supporting global health is critical because many of the serious health threats faced in the United States originate outside this country.

Other scientific agencies will also be hit hard by President Trump's budget. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research office is threatened with a proposed cut of 17 percent; the Department of Energy's Office of Science would be cut by 20 percent; and the Environmental Protection Agency would see a 31 percent cut. Since these agencies are tasked with studying the environment, this is yet another demonstration of the Trump administration's ignorance with regard to the relationship between pollution (more specifically, the burning of fossil fuels) and the environment.

All of these drastic budgetary cuts will create a roadblock to scientific and medical innovation. The cuts will stifle the creation of STEM jobs, which will result in a weakening of national security and block the potential growth of new knowledge and skills. The slashing of these budgets will also put the U.S. workforce at a deficit. We risk losing our status as a world leader in scientific and medical innovation.

A.J. Russo (dr.a.j.russo@gmail.com) is visiting assistant professor of biology at Hartwick College; he lives in Mount Airy.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad