Monthly Archives: December 2012

Speaking of 2012: A year in Summary

It has been a fantastic year for Speaking of Research, reflected in the fact that the website traffic has more than doubled (130% growth and still rising). Thus trying to summarise will be the 127th post of the year thanks to the commitment of our committee. An extra special thanks has to go to four of our most regular authors – Allyson Bennett, Dario Ringach, Paul Browne and Tom Holder.

This year has provided many posts on the ethics and welfare discussions surrounding animal research – starting with the very first post of 2012 on the meaning of “being humane”. We also discussed the ethics of negative results, why not doing research is morally wrong, why animal rights groups are wrong to use marginal case arguments (e.g. cognitively impaired people), the idea of graded moral status, and the relevance of moral intelligence. Another common theme was that of Free Speech and how it can be used to stifle the free speech of others. Parallels were made with how anti-abortion extremists create a climate of fear among their opposition.

Science has always been at the centre of the Speaking of Research website. Among many topics we have written about early successes with using stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue, how cooling the body could improve life chances of stroke victims, huge leaps forward in facial transplant surgery, using Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis to prevent genetic diseases in IVF embryos, several  different advances in paralysis treatment (in dogs as well), new treatments for TB, a new Meningitis B vaccine, and how human embryonic stem cells have helped gerbils’ hearing. Breath. Oh, and both the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to work requiring animal models.

GM mice have made crucial contributions to our understanding of Fragile X syndrome. Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

We discussed how GM mice are helping research Fragile X Syndrome

Other than scientific advances, we also spend a fair amount of time debunking common animal rights crank myths such as surrounding Adverse Drug Reactions, that research is just about money and . SR has helped defend a number of organisations from animal rights misinformation, including Cardiff University’s research on kittens, UW Madison’s research on cats, and the University of British Columbia’s research on monkeys. We have called on people to build their own networks for science to counter the animal rights nonsense (#ARnonsense) they propagate online.

Speaking of Research has always taken a strong stance against animal rights extremism, posting about Camille Marino’s threats, arrest and prosecution as well as Stephen Best’s war against fellow activists, baseless legal threats against us, and why he may have breached ethical standards on academic conduct.

A number of outreach initiatives started this year including Speaking Honestly – Animal Research Education (SHARE), Brainfacts.org, and Keep Research Afloat. Many organisations could still do more as was shown by the statements about research from pharmaceuticals and charities. However, we must congratulate those institutions, like Leicester University, that did outreach right. Of course one of the biggest outreach stories of the year was one we covered only last week, the launch of Pro-Test Italia!

Our own outreach efforts have included a series of guest postings, starting with David Abbott’s post on polycystic ovary syndrome. This precipitated the “Many Voices Speaking of Research” series of guest posts [See post 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7].

So to finish our roundup with a bit of fun, go and play our hugely popular Animal Rights Bingo game.

Merry Christmas Mouse

So Happy Holidays, and have a great New Year!

Speaking of Research

Brain-machine interface success allows paralysed woman to feed herself for first time in a decade.

Today the Guardian newspaper has a fascinating report on how a woman named Jan Scheuermann, quadraplegic for over a decade due to a spinal  degenerative disease, was able to feed herself with the help of two intracortical microelectrode arrays that monitored her motor neuron activity and allowed her to manipulate a robotic arm and hand with unprecedented fluency and accuracy.

Commenting on her performance Professor Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh said:

“We were blown away by how fast she was able to acquire her skill, that was completely unexpected, at the end of a good day, when she was making these beautiful movements, she was ecstatic.”

Professor Schwartz’s name may well be familiar to readers of this blog, and with good reason. Back in 2008 Professor John Stein wrote a post for this blog on a landmark study in which Professor Schwartz and his colleagues implanted identical microelectrody arrays into the brains of two  macaque monkeys, enabling them to manipulate a robotic arm feed themselves marshmallows. This successful study – itself the product of more than two decades of – led directly to the clinical study reported today.

It’s worth remembering that this technology will require further refinement before it is ready for wider use outside of a laboratory setting, but this study shows what can be achieved and provides the proof-of-principle necessary to encourage further investment in this approach.  It is also worth noting that it is far from the only game in town, last year we reported on Prof. Schwartz’s teams success using another method known as electrocorticography to enable a man named Tim Hemmes to control a robotic arm, though with somewhat less dexterity than that reported today, and this year we have also taken a look at the very promising results obtained through the use of spinal electrostimulation and olfactory ensheathing cell transplant to overcome paralysis. Not all these approaches will be appropriate for all patients, and ultimately they may be combined in some cases, but they do provide strong evidence that after decades of hard work and important discoveries in laboratories around the world, neuroscience is now poised to transform the treatment of spinal injuries.

Speaking of Research

 

 

 

 

Introducing Pro-Test Italia!

Italy is not a happy place to be a scientist these days, in recent months we have witnessed the unjust conviction of six Italian seismologists who were made scapegoats for the failures of government officials, budget cuts that threaten Italian participation in groundbreaking physics research programs, and botched efforts to reform the administration of state research agencies.

Animal research in Italy has not been spared from these troubles, as efforts to transpose the new European Directive 2010/63/EU concerning the use of animals in research – itself the outcome of years of debate and extensive consultation with the scientific community – into Italian law have been derailed by an amendment submitted by the populist Italian politicianMichela Brambilla (a close associate of former Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). The amendment, which was passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament, earlier this year, would not only inflict serious harm on medical research in Italy, but would actually contravene Directive 2010/63/EU itself, since the directive only permits EU countries have laws on animal research that are more stringent than the EU directive itself if such laws were already in place by November 9, 2010. If the Italian Senate passes this amendment Italy will be liable to pay fine for infringing the directive, but if the Italian Senate rejects the amendment it has to send the entire bill back to the Chamber of Deputies it will not be implemented in time to meet the January 1st 2013 deadline, and Italy will again face financial penalties.

If you are asking yourself how such a ludicrous situation came to pass, just take a look at the other examples at the top of this post, which show how little regard there is for science among many in the Italian political elite.  The situation is exacerbated by the Italian media, which has for the most part been content to parrot the claims of a very vocal animal rights lobby, while scientists and veterinarians who have spoken out against the Brambilla amendment have been harassed and threatened by animal rights extremists. The situation was made worse when an Italian Court ordered that Green Hill, a beagle breeding facility in Italy which is owned by Marshall Bioresources Inc. , be seized on the basis of spurious allegations made by animal rights activists, and while the Court of Review rejected the allegations of mistreatment and returned the facility to its owners on 25 October 2012 it is still unclear if they will receive compensation for the unjust and unjustifiable seizure and dispersal of their dogs. Unsurprisingly animal rights activists have exploited the seizure in their misleading propaganda, and their claims have rarely been challenged by the Italian media.

Recently some Italians decided that enough was enough, and that it is time to take a stand against the tide of ignorance and misinformation that threatens the very future of medical research in Italy.

It is our great pleasure to introduce you to Pro-Test Italia!

Pro-Test_Italia_Image

On 31st October 2012 this new movement – inspired by the successful Pro-Test Campaign in Oxford and the Pro-Test for Science campaign in Los Angeles, was launched. Pro -Test Italia is an organisation that represents researchers, scientists and the educated opinion of private citizens who wish to defend the role of animal research as an indispensable tool to improve medical knowledge and, ultimately, save human lives. In order to do this Pro-Test Italia provides reliable information on the subject, which is important since the Italian media has been monopolized by animal right activists and their publicity stunts for years.

Pro-Test Italia aims to become a voice of the rational community in Italy and reduce the gap between the common perception of animal research and its reality, so that scientists and researchers are no longer excluded from a debate to which they can provide an enormous contribuition. Over the past month and a half Pro-Test Italia has gathered more than 2,000 followers on its FaceBook page, and a website is under development at http://protestitalia.wordpress.com/.

In their public debut, Pro-Test Italia members attended a meeting at the Italian Senate on 20 November as observers to a debate about the need for animal testing in the development of new medicines. There, IPSOS, an institute that conducts polls and statistic inquiries all over the country, showed the results of a new poll of Italian citizens’ views about animal research. This study revealed two important facts; firstly support for animal research in Italy is higher than animal rights organizations would have us believe (Animal rights activists claim more than 80% of Italians want animal research banned), and secondly that as soon as those questioned receive precise and unbiased information about animal research, their opinion tends to shift dramatically toward a positive view of the practice, from just 33% firmly in favour to 56% firmly in favour (with 21% undecided and 21 % opposed to animal research). These results should not be surprising, as polls in the UK also show that those who are best informed about animal research are also most likely to support it,  and highlight the need for the Italian scientific community to made sure that accurate information about animal research is put into the public sphere.

The national scientific community was represented by some of its most illustrious members, from organizations including the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research and the Italian Association for the Science of laboratory Animals , who thoroughly and unanimously expressed their firm belief about the indispensability of animal research, and the meeting was also addressed by Nadia Malavasi of the TAI, Italy’s Thalidomide victims association, who wished to counter the false claims made by animal rights campaigners about thalidomide. Their opinion has been met with widespread agreement from the political delegations representing a wide spectrum of political views, including Sen. Rosanna Boldi, Dep. Maria Antonietta Farina Coscioni, Senator Carlo Giovanardi and Sen. Ignazio Marino, who also expressed concern about the threats and intimidation campaigns conducted by animal rights extremists. Pro-Test Italia recorded video of several of the presentations, which can be viewed below.

We at Speaking of Research are delighted to welcome our new friends in Pro-Test Italia to the debate, and look forward to working alongside them over the coming months and years to ensure that medical research in Italy has a viable future. That the situation in Italy is enormously challenging is not in doubt, but we have great confidence in our new colleague’s ability to meet that challenge.

Speaking of Research

Addendum 14 Dec 2012: This morning we learned that the Brambilla amendment (also known as Article 14) will not be passed by the Italian parliament, as a result of the decision to hold elections in February 2013. While it is good news that this shoddy amendment has failed, the bad news is that the EU Directive will not be transposed into Italian law in time to meet the January 1st 2013 deadline, which will result in Italy being liable for financial penalties for non-implementation. It is crucial that the general election returns Senators and Representatives who value and understand science, and we expect that our friends in Pro-Test Italia will join with supporters of science throughout Italy in order to make this happen.

Defeating Leukemia: A smile that says “Thank the mice”

A couple of days ago the New York times published a heart warming story about a young girl named Emma Whitehead whose acute lymphoblastic leukemia – which had previously defied all therapies – has gone into full remission following treatment with a novel gene therapy that programmed her immune system to target the cancer cells. The New York Times report noted that the therapy used a vector based on the HIV-1 virus to deliver genes – known as a chimeric antigen complex (CAR) – to modify  Emma’s T-cells so that they would destroy the leukemia cells.  This isn’t the first example of how scientists are using the properties of this deadly virus to develop powerful new therapies, back in 2009 we discussed how such a lentiviral vector was used to treat the genetic disease cerebral X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. Emma wasn’t the only patient to benefit from this therapy developed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, 9 other patients with intractable leukemia have experienced partial or full remissions.

Emma2

Earlier today I received an e-mail from a long-time reader of this blog asking:

Did I dream there was an SR post on this already?”

Well my friend, you were not dreaming.

Last year we published a post entitled “A breakthrough against Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia…thank the mice!” which discussed the role of animal research in the development of this therapy, and in particular that of mice the evaluation of chimeric antigen complexes in order to identify a complex that would induce a long-lasting immune response against the cancer cells. Our post also linked to an article on the Weizmann Wave Blog entitled “Cancer Breakthrough 20 Years in the Making” which described the basic biomedical research – mice were again crucial – that underpinned this field.

At the time I concluded the post by saying:

So there you have it, behind the headlines are years of graft by hard-working and innovative scientists, who utilised a wide range of experimental approaches – among which animal studies figure prominently – to develop a novel therapy for CLL.”

And I say the same again today. At a time when funding of medical research in the US is facing the threat of very damaging cuts, Emma’s story is a reminder of why you should write to your Senator and Congressional Representative today!

Paul Browne

Animal Rights Bill Under Consideration in the Senate

The Great Ape Bill, which would have significant impact on chimpanzee research in the US, is now under consideration in the US Senate.  Over the past year, the legislation has been widely discussed in terms of its aims to:

1) End invasive research with chimpanzees.

2) Move towards retirement of the US chimpanzee research population to sanctuaries.

3) Save costs associated with care of the US chimpanzee research population.

All of these goals have been presented widely in ways that have broad popular appeal.  Efforts to pass this bill have received tremendous energy and are the focus of a range of groups and individuals who have common interests in animal welfare. If it were to succeed, passage of this bill would undoubtedly be historic and significant. It would end invasive chimpanzee research in one of only two countries who currently conduct it within their borders.  Moreover, other countries could neither count the US as a fail-safe for the conduct of invasive ape research, nor could they contract such research in US laboratories.

It is for those reasons, along with consideration of its effects on both the chimpanzees who are its subject and the public who benefit from scientific research, that it is of crucial importance to have thorough understanding and discussion of the bill.  This is true in terms of the likelihood that it will actually result in the benefits that its supporters assume. It is also true in terms of the intended and unintended consequences it may have for animal welfare, science, research with other animals, and long-term costs to the public.

On close examination it is far from clear that the current draft of the legislation – which was proposed in November by Senator Maria Cantwell  – would accomplish the aims that are at the heart of arguments made by its supporters. In fact, one has already been shot down by recent Congressional Budget Office analysis demonstrating that S. 810, The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2012 would provide none of the cost-savings advertised in its title.

More importantly from an animal welfare perspective, the legislation and discussion surrounding it fail to offer for public consideration an effective plan to successfully provide the chimpanzee population with sustainable long-term care under conditions that meet federal sanctuary standards. Without this information it is impossible to determine whether the welfare of the majority of the population of chimpanzees would be best ensured and sustained over their lives.

Thus, discussion of the legislation appears to fall short on planning for all of the chimpanzees’ welfare, which is the presumed central focus of the effort. Furthermore, in absence of a comprehensive plan that would suggest feasible alternatives for the animals’ care and housing, an accurate cost calculation cannot be made.

The complexity of this issue should not be underestimated.  In fact, NIH has already convened an expert group to make recommendations about the chimpanzees’ long-term care, housing, and population size.  A report from the NIH Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-supported research assembled as a result of last year’s Institute of Medicine report is due early next year. One of their tasks is to consider how the “ethologically-relevant” care and housing recommended by the IOM report would be defined and implemented.  Among the issues that remain to be addressed are decision-making about whether key elements of facilities, care and housing for the chimpanzees should differ from the current standards in either research facilities or sanctuaries.

Whether there is sufficient capacity in current facilities or sanctuaries is at also a key issue, as was highlighted earlier this year when NIH announced that newly retired chimpanzees from New Iberia could not move directly to the only federally-funded sanctuary, Chimp Haven, because it did not currently have capacity for a larger number of animals.  As the NIH pointed out, no other sanctuary in the US meets the standards required for retirement of federally-owned chimpanzees.

“At a minimum, sanctuaries that care for NIH-owned chimpanzees must meet the “Standards of Care for Chimpanzees Held in the Federally Supported Sanctuary System”. These standards, which were developed to ensure the safety and welfare of the chimpanzees, include the requirement for the sanctuary to achieve accreditation by a nationally recognized animal program accrediting body, such as the AAALAC or the AZA. NIH is unaware of any sanctuary other than Chimp Haven that meets the standards specified by law or regulation.”

One solution to the housing question is to consider research facilities currently housing chimpanzees as appropriate venues for the animals’ retirement. This would eliminate the need to move the animals and the cost of extensive construction of new facilities.  This solution is controversial however, as was evident in the public response to NIH’s announcement several months ago that retired chimpanzees would be moved from one biomedical research facility to another. The controversy over that decision serves as an illustration of the need to include a much more comprehensive discussion of the range of options—including both their benefits and their costs—for any changes in the long-term care and housing of the US chimpanzee population.

Together all of these considerations raise a question about the central motive for the bill.  Specifically it raises the following questions:  is GAPCSA simply aimed at formalizing via legislation what is already occurring through other channels such as the IoM report on chimpanzee research and the resultant NIH working group tasked with recommendations on the future of chimpanzee research?  Or, is it the intent of GAPCSA’s supporters to capitalize on what is already a near-consensus change in the need and practice of invasive chimpanzee research in order to secure a victory and precedent for an animal rights agenda?

The latter conclusion is suggested by consideration of the little detail provided about contingencies for chimpanzees’ care, alongside the mismatch between the bill and the IoM report.

IOM coverIn a recent revision of the bill apparently aimed at alignment with the IoM report which we discussed earlier, the findings section of the Bill is based almost entirely on the report. Among the scientific findings, we read that while chimpanzees are not frequently used in research today,  “a new, emerging, or remerging disease, or disorder may present challenges to treatment, prevention, or control that defy non-chimpanzees models and available technologies and therefore may require the use of the chimpanzee.”

And yet, the central purpose of the bill has been that “No person shall conduct invasive research on an ape.” In other words, a complete ban on invasive research.

Clearly, there is no logic that can be invoked to support GAPCSA’s effective prohibition of all invasive research based on the IoM’s scientific findings. The assessment that chimpanzees may be required in the future argues exactly for the opposite position.  This is the reason the IoM panel decided not to recommend an outright ban.

It is worth noting that the most recently revised version of the bill allows for exceptions to invasive research, it is our opinion that, as written, the hurdles imposed would effectively imply a complete ban.

 

First, the bill requires that any invasive research be conducted “in an ethologically appropriate physical and social environment; or the great ape’s natural habitat.” Research that involves studying new emergent infectious diseases would be nearly impossible to carry out in such conditions.

 

Second, the bill never defines “ethologically appropiate,” which leaves a door for animal rights opponents of medical research to claim that any proposed laboratory conditions are unacceptable. Indeed, the Humane Society of the Unites States already says that “Chimpanzees are magnificent, intelligent, and social animals capable of a wide range of emotions. Their complex social and emotional needs simply cannot be met in a laboratory environment.”

 

Third, the bill requires HHS to find that forgoing the use of apes in proposed research “will significantly slow or prevent advancements” in the proposed area of research, which is scientifically impossible to determine.

 

Interestingly, the modified bill removed language from the original version which argued for the prohibition based on ethical considerations as well, highlighting the cognitive and emotional ability of apes and the alleged inability to keep these animals while meeting their physical, social and psychological needs.

 

Perhaps the language worried some legislators that saw the same could be said of other species.  Its removal should be no reason for comfort. If you want to understand where all this is heading all you have to do is read a recent article by HSUS’s Kathleen Conlee and Andrew Rowan, where they state their view that

“[…] full replacement of animals in harmful research is within our grasp. The goal will not be reached all at once, however, and phasing out invasive research on all nonhuman primates should be the priority.”

Today apes. Tomorrow all primates. Other species will follow. The Great Ape Bill is just the first step in HSUS’s vision of an end to all animal research by 2050.

It makes sense.  After all, the Bill under consideration does not appear to be about science as it contradicts the IoM recommendations; as explained above, it does not seem to be about animal welfare either; it is truly about animal rights.

As events related to chimpanzees in research in the US have played out over the past year, it has only become more apparent that greater attention to the details and consequences—intended and not—of decisions about the future of chimpanzee research is urgently needed.  Serious deliberation is needed not only to inform evaluation of this legislation, but also to guide decision-making to ensure that the relevant ethical issues are fully considered.

There is no question that chimpanzee research in the US has changed significantly over the past several decades.  Last year’s report from the Institute of Medicine panel convened by NIH in order to consider the future of chimpanzee research provided ample evidence of consensus in both the scientific community and others concerned with animals in research that continuing changes are appropriate and inevitable. At the same time, it is clear that there is little consensus that the GAPCSA legislation is the best way to move forward.

GAPCSA takes the unusual and unprecedented step of prohibiting an entire animal research model, something that should be of concern to all scientists.  As Judith Bond, President of FASEB, recognized “Even if you do not work with great apes, you should be concerned about this bill because it would end research deemed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to be ethically sound and scientifically important and could pave the way for legislation to ban research with other species.”

Unless you are an animal rights proponent, the GAPCSA is not the way forward.

Speaking of Research

Previous SR posts on chimpanzee research and GAPCSA cover the wording of the act, the question of costs, a primatologist’s perspective, the Institute of Medicine’s report, and a recent response to a constituent’s letter.

Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare 101: A Crash Course for Legislators

I recently wrote a letter to Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA) explaining my reasons for opposing the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act.  Either a failure to read or understand the content of my letter, led her to reply as follows:

Karen Bass, Great Ape Protection and Savings Act, animal rights, animal research, animal welfare

Letter from Rep. Karen Bass

I am not sure if the congresswoman is indeed an advocate of animal rights, or if she simply does not understand the difference between the animal rights and animal welfare positions. I would surely like to know. But before she explains her position, and for the benefit of all legislators out there, let me clarify again what the terms mean.

Animal rights is based on the notion humans owe equal moral concern for all sentient, living beings, from a worm, to a mouse, to a human.  It insists all living beings have the same basic right to live in freedom. The position holds that species membership is not morally relevant, meaning that we must be prepared to treat a mouse in the same way as a mentally impaired human being with similar capacities. According to the animal rights position, animals have a right not to be used by humans for any purpose whatsoever.

Animal welfare is based on the notion that we owe moral consideration to all living beings, but not equally.  That our moral concern ought to be graded according to each species’ capacity for suffering.  That all living beings must be treated humanely and without unnecessary suffering.  In this view, there are cases where the interests of humans and non-human animals conflict where it is morally permissible to decide in favor of human beings.  Such as their use to advance medical knowledge and human (and non-human) health.

Are you an animal rights proponent?

Now, with these brief definitions at hand, here is a quick test to determine if you are an animal rights advocate.

Does a mouse deserve the same moral consideration as any other member of your family?  If not, why not?  (Animal rights answer: Yes)

Are there any situations where you may justify any harm to an animal based on the benefits it produces to the human and non-human animal population? (Example: the development and production of vaccines.) (Animal rights answer: No)

Do you consider your ownership of a dog equivalent to owning a slave? (Animal rights answer: Yes)

Do you consider Jonas Salk’s experiments leading to the development of the Polio vaccine to be morally equivalent to the experiments of Nazi doctors on Jews in concentration camps?  (Animal rights answer: Yes)

Do you support the use of animals to advance medical knowledge and human health funded by the National Institutes of Health? (Animal rights answer: No)

Do you believe rights arise from mutually agreed responsibilities and obligations that result from a social contract among members of a society of equals? (Animal rights answer: No)

If so, do you think all living beings can participate as members of our moral community?  (Animal rights answer: Well…  but what about the mentally disabled?)

Are you a vegan? (Animal rights answer: Yes, of course. After all, all animals have the same right to life and freedom as we do. Eating a chicken would be the same as eating my neighbor.)

Did your answers match those of the animal rights position? If so, you can declare yourself an animal rights proponent and present yourself as such to your constituents.  If not, you probably recognize there are ethical dilemmas in life that are complex and not so easily resolved by declaring all animals to have the same basic rights as humans. You are an animal welfarist and you should make that clear to your voters as well.

One last point — these positions are mutually exclusive; they are not philosophical positions that can be reconciled in any meaningful way.  You cannot pretend to be an animal welfarist one day and an animal rights proponent another. You have to make up your mind.

Don’t let medical progress go over the cliff, contact your representative today!

In this blog we frequently discuss threats to medical research, ranging from harassment of individual scientists by animal right extremists, to spurious complaints by animal rights groups, to legislative proposals that may harm medical research.  The threat we wish to draw your attention to today is somewhat different, as it impacts not only on medical research but on all areas of scientific research in the US, but it is one which demands urgent action.

As the end-of-year deadline for agreement on a new federal budget looms ever closer, and discussions in the US Congress continue, the danger of going over the “fiscal cliff” is increasing, an event that would trigger  sequestration — automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect in January 2013.  These cuts, amounting to about 600 billion in non-defence spending would reduce funding for research agencies by $3.9 billion in 2013 alone. These agencies include those charged with protecting the health of US citizens and developing innovative new therapies to treat disease, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and provide funding for many of the exciting research projects that we have discussed on this blog over the past few years.

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The impact of such cuts, coming after almost a decade of stagnant funding levels – in reality funding decreases in most agencies once you adjust for inflation and a sharp increase in administrative costs over the same period – would be devastating for biomedical research in the USA, as the report “Sequestration: Health Research at the Breaking Point” from Research! America makes all too clear. The leadership of Research!America, a not-for-profit public education and advocacy alliance whose members include many research institutions, charities and scientific associations, noted that this would:

  • Result in the loss of 33,000 NIH-funded jobs and a $4.5 billion decline in economic activity.
  • Eliminate NSF funding for more than 19,300 researchers, students and technical support personnel.
  • Eliminate 2,500 specialized disease detectives in state and local health departments funded by the CDC, severely limiting efforts to identify and stop food borne outbreaks.
  • Mean the loss of $111 million in FDA user fees that are vital for its evaluation activities, delaying patient access to new medical treatments.

What is not so easy to calculate is the longer-term impact when promising young researchers leave science due to career insecurity, when great new ideas go unstudied, when fewer opportunities exist to capitalize on scientific and technical advances, and when new therapeutic ideas don’t get developed to the point where they can be tested in the clinic. The Federal Government provides about 60% of funding for basic research, so it is clear that Research! America’s use of the term “devastating” to describe the impact of the cuts is fully justified. Indeed, investments in science and engineering have produced more than half of U.S. economic growth since WWII, with government funding fostering new knowledge, industrial innovation, and the training of future scientists and engineers, which explains why a recent Pew Research centre poll found that a clear majority of Americans oppose cuts in funding for scientific research.

Unfortunately there are those who see this crisis as an opportunity to renew their ongoing attacks on science. In particular the animal rights group PeTA – using the kind of misleading propaganda we have grown very used to –  is urging it’s supporters to write to their senators and congressional representatives to ask then to cut all funding for animal research (Warning: PeTA Website). Such campaigns make it even more crucial for scientists and those who support science to make their voices heard by the politicians who are currently debating the budget.

So what can we all do about this?

Well, you can head over to the Advocacy and Action page at Research! America, where they have loads of information on how you can contact your Senator, Congressional Representative and President to let them know that while reducing the deficit is important it must not come at the cost of scientific advancement, future economic prosperity, health or human lives. They even have an online tool to help you compose messages to tell our politicians that we need cures, not cuts!

A new campaign SaveResearch.org has united dozens of research charities and scientific organizations to campaign against the cuts, and has lots of suggestions for action, including this research advocacy toolkit that offers lots of helpful advice and tips.

And if you are a scientist the American Association for the Advancement of science has a great resource where you can leave a message or video  that they will take to Capitol Hill and the White House.

You might even take up the suggestion made by the editors of Nature to put on your lab coat and march on Capitol Hill.

Whatever you decide to do, doing nothing is not an option. We in the scientific community – and all those who support scientific research – need to make sure that our political representatives hear our voices, and act now before the damage is done!

Speaking of Research