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An accelerator for America’s future

Published 11:15am Saturday, May 11, 2013

by Randy Forbes

Medical research has been called an accelerator for America’s future and its successes are awe-inspiring: Regenerative medicine research has given people a second chance at life. Stem cells were taken from a child’s own bone marrow to create and implant a windpipe in a 2½ year-old-girl. The Human Genome Project served as the research catalyst that allowed us to read all three billion letters in human DNA code. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has led research providing major advancements in our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and Parkinson’s.

Despite these opportunities and achievements, many difficulties remain, not the least of which is how we approach medical research in light of the fiscal challenges facing our nation. We are in an age of austerity that touches every rung of the federal government. To be sure, we have a responsibility to vigorously enact common-sense spending cuts and protect our national defense from sequestration. Yet, we also have an opportunity to simultaneously make a deliberate investment in the lives of Americans through the most efficient use of medical research.

Medical research is an engine of America’s competitiveness and an inspiration of hope for millions of Americans. It is also a long-term investment. And just like any investment, it must be done in a smart way for the returns to be valuable. However, it can be done. An analysis of the Human Genome Project found that the roughly $4 billion spent on the project generated $796 billion in economic growth within the first decade and created 310,000 jobs. These deliberate investments don’t just have economic benefit; they are an investment in the health of Americans.

In Congress, I’m working to create a brighter future for medical research and aggressively working to reduce waste, root out inefficiencies, and drive down the size of the federal government. Our first step must be prioritizing funding for medical research that will provide the most benefit to patients in the most efficient manner possible. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an incredible ability to invest in programs in medical and disease research that improve the quality of life for Americans and ultimately save money on health care costs. Additionally, the NIH can undertake research that private companies cannot undertake alone. That’s why I’ve encouraged the appropriations committee to recognize the promise of medical research and the important contributions of the NIH as the committee finalizes funding.

Recently, I also joined my Democrat colleague Dan Lipinski in reintroducing a bill that would direct the NIH to put patients first by prioritizing stem-cell research that has the greatest potential for near-term clinical benefits. The Patients First Act prioritizes funding for promising stem cell research without authorizing any new spending.

Of course, any opportunity for medical research comes with great responsibility. Just like we need to increase scrutiny of the Department of Defense and the Federal Reserve through regular and thorough audits, medical research at the federal level also needs to meet a higher standard. We have to ask tough questions: Are we making wise decisions? Is the research providing meaningful results? Are individuals directly benefiting from the research? How can we make resources work together in cohesion and unity?

Patients and our economy stand to benefit greatly. The science has never been more promising. We have an opportunity to empower the scientific and medical landscape of our nation and accelerate America as the resounding leader in medical discovery.

RANDY FORBES represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. For contact information, see http://randyforbes.house.gov.

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