Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:14

Sequestration: Journal of a Fiscal Plague Year

Written by  ASCB Post Staff
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FHS Archive DrThomas Dawber Microscope smallThe Framingham Heart Study began in 1948, but now faces cuts
due to sequestration. The first director of the FHS, is on the right.
Photo courtesy of the Framingham Heart Study.
America's uncontrolled experiment in eyes-closed sequestration of research funding has George F. Will of the Washington Post worried. With the National Institutes of Health (NIH) now enforcing cuts of 5% or $1.55 billion, Will has declared sequestration, "a public health hazard." Will writes, "NIH scientists seek intensely practical, meaning preventive and therapeutic, things that can save society more than any sequester can."

Studies and stories about the direct impact of the cuts are multiplying. Science magazine highlighted how the cuts have affected the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), which plans to lay off 21% of its 90-person staff and suspend some future exams. For 60 years, the FHS has done landmark research on cardiac health, in particular identifying the link between cholesterol and heart disease.

Anindya Dutta, professor at the University of Virginia, who was in the 2nd percentile of NIH grants reviewed in 2007 but is now in the 18th percentile, will not get funded, according to The Huffington Post. Dutta is working on the role of microRNAs in formation and fusion of muscle tissues, a subject with implications for those with muscle weakness due to age or illnesses such as muscular dystrophy. Dutta has already reduced the number of researchers in his lab and may have to end the project altogether.

After his first article about the effects of sequestration on research in The Huffington Post, Sam Stein shared emails from researchers affected by the cuts. Scientists wrote about derailed research projects, layoffs, difficulties finding work, and their concern for the future of research. Robert Marc, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Utah, concluded that the sequestration's impact will echo in labs and clinics for a long time. "When and if Congress ever does anything again, it will be years before we get our new blindness treatment study back on line."