Medical Research to Feel the Sting of Government Shutdown Through Spring, But Sequestration Hurts Medical Discovery Even More

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Many Americans breathed a sigh of relief last week, when the federal lawmakers finally reached an agreement to reopen the federal government and extend the debt ceiling. However, the effects of the shutdown (which took an estimated $24 billion out of the economy, according to S&P) will be felt for some time to come, and that is especially true for federally funded medical research. According to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, some 10,000 research applications have been affected.

On Friday, the National Institutes of Health issued guidance to researchers whose funding applications were affected by the shutdown. According to the ASBMB, the shutdown will delay funding decisions originally planned for 2014 until May or later, which the organization says could cause "potential gaps in funding for those grantees whose funding is set to expire."

"Today, grantees and grant applicants got the news they have been dreading for weeks," said ASBMB President Jeremy Berg. "Scientists whose applications had been submitted but not reviewed now must wait as the meetings are rescheduled and the advisory councils meet. For scientists with ongoing grants, this could lead to gaps in funding unrelated to the outstanding research underway. For other scientists, this will delay the initiation of important research and threaten jobs. The effects of the shutdown are — as we predicted — slowing the national scientific enterprise. However, these delays pale in comparison to the impact that sequestration has had, and will continue to have, if Congress doesn't resolve these budget issues." (emphasis mine)

So, the shutdown has potentially delayed important medical research findings, but sequestration has been even more problematic. The NIH has seen its budget cut $1.6 billion this year, which has even more negative impact on the research of science, which I have previously written about on this blog:

"Some argue that the federal government doesn't have an obligation to fund this research in the first place, and while that argument can be made, it doesn't help alleviate the problem that the government did and does fund it; important advancements have been made; and sequestration means important discoveries could be stopped in their tracks and the talented minds running these labs will have few resources (short of private/commercial funding, which comes with a whole different set of bias concerns) in which to continue their potentially groundbreaking, lifesaving work."

ASBMB Public Affairs Director Benjamin Corb sums up the impact well: "Sequestration of science funding has critically damaged the ability of researchers to advance their areas of study."

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