The following is a guest blog entry from Lisa Bartlett, Illinois You're the Cure advocate and stroke survivor. Lisa attended the Rally for Medical Research in Washington D.C. in September.
On September 18th, I joined 250 survivors and advocates to tell Congress to invest in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the Rally for Medical Research Hill Day. As part of this unprecedented gathering of more than 170 medical research organizations, we collectively shared our stories with 80 Senators and our respective House Representatives across 40 states.
In March, approximately $1.6 billion (5.5%) of the NIH budget was sequestered. The NIH is the world’s largest funder of biomedical research, but grant approval ratings are historically low (17%). 640 grants will be rejected due to 2013 budget losses, including 150 renewals to support ongoing studies. As we left to gather on the steps of the Capitol before our Congressional meetings for the day, the President of the American Association of Cancer Research Charles L Sawyers told us that we must act now, or we will risk losing the next generation of research.
A call to action had been issued to each of us: to advocate for the medical researchers whose life-saving research is dependent on this funding and for the millions of survivors whose lives are dependent upon the researchers’ work. Lisa Niemi Swayze, widow to actor Patrick Swayze (who battled pancreatic cancer), said with medical research we have the opportunity to give all people a chance to fight, make a better life, and have hope.
I felt ready to advocate for the NIH. My first meetings were with Senator Durbin and Senator Kirk. Both senators were positive about medical research, and we were able to have over half hour conversations with each about ways we can work together locally and on the Hill to support the NIH. Illinois received $798 million from the NIH in 2013 and residents held nearly 80,000 bioscience industry jobs in 2010.
Amidst a flurry of activity on the Hill with lobbyists filled throughout the hallways, many advocating to lift the sequester, I proceeded over to the House for my afternoon meetings with Congressman Foster and Congressman Rush. Along with all 30 American Heart Association advocates, I shared the Hearts for Medical Research Petition to show each Congressman their constituents want the NIH budget cuts to stop.
Looking forward to the issues facing Illinois this year, I am confronted again with the importance of NIH funding. Despite being both a former scientific researcher and stroke survivor, the far-reaching economic and community health impacts of medical research still amaze me. From the ground-breaking studies investigating obesity to implementing stroke systems of care, the NIH is a pivotal partner to empower us with the science we need to face every issue that we take on from a local to federal level.
I ended my trip with a walk through the National Mall. Looking from monument to memorial, I was reminded of the call to action that lays before us. Sue Nelson, the Vice President of Federal Advocacy for the American Heart Association, shared her a Chinese proverb with the advocate group to charge us to this call: the person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it. The economy and health of our nation is critically dependent on us continuing medical research. As Ann C Bonham, Ph.D., the Chief Scientific Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, people with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer cannot afford to wait 5 years for the budget to be straightened out. As sequestration and budget cuts are scheduled to resume, I now share this call to action with you all. Together, let’s remind congress to prioritize NIH investments.