The Battle for Foundational Research Funding

Twentieth-century health activist Mary Lasker, who devoted her life to securing greater research funding for cancer, is quoted as saying: “If you think research is expensive, try disease.”

That battle for adequate cancer research funding is never-ending. Indeed, it’s not just cancer that needs greater funding. Despite advances through the tireless efforts of numerous organizations, including ACT for NIH, the U.S. National Institutes of Health is perennially underfunded. The 2022 appropriation remains below what I believe is needed to continue our fight against disease.

It’s not widely recognized outside the research community that scientific discoveries happen in a non-linear and unpredictable fashion. Many of the most revolutionary advances in medicine came about through an unexpected observation during an experiment. Such serendipitous insights then open whole new pathways for investigation.

This summer ASCO Post will publish a new essay of mine that explores this and mentions several examples of unfettered research leading to breakthrough discoveries, including our recent unexpected finding while conducting cancer research that the telomerase enzyme plays a role in regulating genes related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.7 [Shim HS, Horner JW, Wu CJ, et al: Telomerase reverse transcriptase preserves neuron survival and cognition in Alzheimer’s disease models. Nat Aging 1(12):1162-1174, 2021]

The need for robust funding of such foundational research is more important now than ever, particularly for the top disease killers, including heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Watch for a follow-on post when that article is published.

Get Insights From Ron

Sign up for the latest news and updates from Ron DePinho, MD