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04.12.2017

Researchers meet with U.S. senator on NIH funding

Sen. Patty Murray hears about push to develop new treatments for malaria, cystic fibrosis and other diseases

By Barbara Clements  |  HSNewsBeat  |  Updated 5:00 PM, 04.12.2017

Posted in: Issues

  • Graduate students Nicole Arroyo and Fahd al Qureshah, greet U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Dr. Marion Pepper at an immunology lab at UW Medicine South Lake Union. Clare McLean

One by one, several UW Medicine researchers at an April 12 meeting told U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) about what cuts to the National Institutes of Health’s budget would mean for their research and their careers.

Dr. William Hahn, an infectious disease fellow with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine,  works with immunologist Dr. Marion Pepper. He said lack of NIH funding would mean he’d have to find another line of work. He is currently looking at why the body’s defenses don’t seem to remember contact with the malaria parasite from one exposure to the next.

“Once we figure out the immune memory, and why the body doesn’t seem to have it with this disease, we’re on the way to making a better treatment,” he told Murray, who was in Seattle to visit the immunology labs at UW Medicine’s South Lake Union research campus.

Kaylee Alvarado spoke about the personal importance of cystic fibrosis research.
Clare McLean
Kaylee Alvarado spoke about the personal importance of cystic fibrosis research.
cystic fibrosis patient

“You can see I have a lab of 10 people – they are the bright young stars of research – but their training and research depends on NIH grants,” Pepper told Murray after the tour.  Cutting NIH funding would mean curtailing or ending new discoveries the researchers might make during their careers, Pepper added.

The administration’s budget to Congress last month proposes cutting $5.8 billion from the NIH’s $32 billion budget in 2018. Recently, the administration has proposed cutting $1.2 billion from this year’s budget.  Whether or not these cuts occur, competition for NIH grants is already intense.  In 2000, 30 percent of all NIH grants were approved and funded. Today, the percentage is closer to 18 percent according to the NIH website.

For some, the research and the proposed cuts are deeply personal.

Murray Ramsey Pepper
Clare McLean
Dr. Bonnie Ramsey (left) with Dr. Marion Pepper and Sen. Patty Murray (right).
Murray visit

Kaylee Alvarado, a cystic fibrosis patient who is treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said that new research and often very expensive treatments, has allowed her to survive into her 20s.

The Bellevue woman, who took the tour of the Pepper’s lab with the press and Murray, stressed that “many of today’s treatments come from this research. Without adequate funding, “ future treatments are in jeopardy,” she said.

Dr. Bonnie Ramsey, a cystic fibrosis UW Medicine researcher at  Seattle Children’s, said that in the 1980s, cystic fibrosis patients usually only lived into their teens. Now, the life expectancy has been extended  to their 40s or 50s. Ramsey is the director of Clinical and Translational Research at Seattle Children’s and the Endowed Chair in Cystic Fibrosis at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“We will lose the next generation of scientists and their innovations without funding,” Ramsey said.

She said that NIH funding was behind the discovery in 1989 of the gene which causes the disease, and it was also behind the science which led to the development of the innovative therapies for the disease.  

“The framework we are working in is very challenging,” Murray said. “But I will be in the fight for these programs. I will be fighting back against this budget as hard as I can.”

UW Medicine is the top public medical school in receipt of NIH funding .  In fiscal year 2016, it received $638.8 million in NIH funding (source: U.S. News & ‘World Report).


 

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