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US shutdown affecting medical science

Published on 11/10/13 at 10:16am
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American scientists and the latest Nobel Prize winners have condemned the US shutdown this week saying it is putting scientific endeavour in peril.

The US government shutdown, which began on 1 October, brought a halt to basic research at the National Institutes of Health - a biomedical research facility located in Maryland, US - whilst also suspending grant applications.

This also comes on top of a funding cut announced earlier in the year by president Barack Obama, who told the NIH to cut $1.6 billion, or 5%, of its 2013 budget.

James Rothman, professor of biomedical sciences at Yale University, Randy Schekman, professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley and Thomas Suedhof, a physiology professor at Stanford University, all won the Nobel Prize this week for illustrating how chemicals produced by cells are shuttled from one place to another.

But they took aim at the cut in finance, with Suedhof saying that science funding is ‘imperilled’.

Schekman added: “Particularly now people need to be reminded that that investment is being eroded and suspended because of government inaction.”

Rothman echoed the concerns of his fellow winners, saying that support for basic research that can lead to new therapeutic techniques is ‘on the wane’. “I had five years of failure before the first initial success,” he said in an interview. “That kind of support, there’s less of it now. And that’s a pressing national issue.”

But this is also starting to affect medical research outside of the US. Prof John Hardy, of University College London, told the BBC: “Vital work on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is being held up while hardworking scientists are being forced to stay at home, without even being allowed to read their email. It is difficult to see how this is fiscally responsible.”

Imran Khan, chief executive of the British Science Association, said: “The biggest lesson we should take from this week’s Nobel Prizes is that science doesn’t belong to one nation; it’s an international and collaborative human enterprise.

“Our scientists work with American scientists, and the UK public benefits enormously from research that goes on there, as well as vice versa. If the shutdown continues, it’s bad news for both scientists and the public here in the UK as well as across the pond.”

Ben Adams 

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