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Have we done enough in cancer research?


So, are you happy with where we are in cancer research? Think we're close to a cure yet?If not, then you should be disappointed that $1.6 billion is on the chopping block for the National Institutes of Heath, and subsequently $300 million for the National Cancer Institute. In addition to the overall excitement of the research that is being presented here this week at the American Association for Cancer Research, the other overall theme I've noticed is the call to action in response to the threat of reduced funding for it. The annual meeting is coincidentally being held while Congress attempts, for the umpteenth time, to agree on a federal budget. The next round of votes are scheduled for Wednesday, which is why AACR is urging its members and the public to call their elected officials at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday to express their disapproval for the proposed cuts. The organization put out this statement on Sunday: Among the myriad of issues under discussion is a House-passed bill (H.R. 1), which cuts funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $1.6 billion in FY2011. The alternative Senate proposal would maintain NIH funding at current levels (FY2010). A cut of this magnitude proposed by the House would slow research progress and squander invaluable scientific opportunities, to the detriment of our nation's health and our ability to maintain leadership in the global innovation economy.It probably is no coincidence that AACR gave out its first Distinguished Service and Global Impact in Cancer and Biomedical award to John Porter, a Republican former representative from Illinois who fought for cancer funding in the mid-90s. As he was being introduced, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, the outgoing AACR president and a Nobel laureate, noted that he was largely responsible for pulling the National Institutes of Health back from the brink of a 25 percent budget cut at the time. During months of Congressional hearings, it was proposed by the then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that the NIH budget be cut 5 percent each year for five years – a total cut of 25 percent. Porter, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies during that time, fought for the Institutes' funding by calling on well-known researchers, Nobel laureates and advocates to appeal to Gingrich over the need for this funding. Gingrich listened and later called the proposed cuts "a mistake."In response, instead of cutting the NIH budget that term, they actually increased funding--and balanced the budget. Fast-forward to today and Porter, now the chairman for Research!America, again gave the call to action to those who will be directly affected by the NCI cuts – cancer researchers and ultimately the public. "I am merely support staff for all of you. It's what you do that makes a difference," Porter told the researchers in the audience. "Science, technology, innovation, and research – that is our economic destiny. This is where we lead the world. If we don't make the investment we lose that leadership." Porter said he was appalled at the "mindless cuts" because no hearing had been called to even discuss the proposed budget cuts and their long-term impact."We need champions to stand up," Jon Retzlaff, managing director of the AACR's Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs said during yesterday's press conference. Unfortunately, the Spectors, Kennedys and Porters are no longer there to be those cancer champions, he said, which is why he hopes the present Congress will listen to the public."It is crazy to go down this path," he said. "We agree there have to be some tough choices... but let's not put our deficit on the backs of patients who are looking for hope and researchers who think they have wonderful opportunities to make a difference."

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