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Michael Ham

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Federal Investments in Scientific Research Must Remain a Priority

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 12:23 pm

As America struggles to deal with the federal deficit, it is important to maintain a long-term perspective on spending priorities. Specifically, investments in scientific research.

The history of federally funded scientific research began in the bleak, early days of WWII when America's victory was doubtful. Physicists, mathematicians, engineers, chemists and biologists lined up to perform research that could give the United States an edge in the fight. From improvements in battlefield medicine and the creation of early computers, to the development of the atomic bomb, these investments provided astounding results that saved American lives and ushered in a technological revolution that continues to this day.

Following the war, a forward-thinking scientist named Vannevar Bush pushed for the establishment of a peacetime effort to support science and give the United States a competitive advantage militarily and economically.

The results speak for themselves. Thanks in no small part to these investments, America's scientific, economic, and military preeminence on the world stage is second to none. Federally funded research allows millions of Americans to fight ravaging diseases that meant certain death until very recently.

For example, scientists and doctors extended the five-year survival rate of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia from non-existent just 40 years ago to 80% in children (by the way, if you need a cancer charity, one that actually performs research, please consider St. Judes).

I could tell you the financial problems facing the nation were not caused by science or caring for the sick and elderly and are primarily the result of deregulation, tax cuts and unfunded wars. And yet, pages of facts and statistics cannot adequately describe the impact research has on the lives of everyday Americans and the necessity of federal science funding.

Instead, I will tell you how biochemistry and cell-culture made my family complete.

In 1960 the National Science Foundation began an ambitious buildup of research infrastructure at American universities. One of the scientists that participated in this buildup was an aspiring researcher named Dr. Richard Ham, my grandfather. His work focused on identifying the nutritional elements required to keep Chinese hamster cells alive in a petri dish, a surprisingly complex challenge. This core bio-chemistry research continued for many years and eventually led to the development of Ham's F-10, a mixture that nurtured mammalian cells outside the body and kept them fully functional.

In 1978 the true impact of his work was realized when the first in vitro fertilization procedure was successfully performed using Ham's F-10 -- sparking a revolution that allowed millions of childless couples to conceive children of their own. Thirty-four years later this procedure gave my Grandpa his fifth great-grandchild.

Though he will never meet my son in person, I am grateful that he saw the image of a healthy, 13-week-old fetus whose very existence is a direct result of his research.

That he lived to see the ultrasound of his great-grandson is yet another testament to the power of science funding. My grandpa suffered from a rare genetic defect that slowly shut down his kidneys and required the use of dialysis machines, which were created with a combination of federal and private research. These machines not only kept him alive, but allowed my brother and I to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams and take him to Moab, Utah several few months before he passed away at the age of 79. Though life ultimately proves fragile and fleeting, the best of humanity occurs when we band together and create new understandings that allow us to spend that time with the ones we love.

As the nation searches for the right balance of federal spending and taxation, we must not sacrifice our future by failing to provide a solid scientific basis for future generations. As calls to reduce federal benefits grow louder, we must fight short-sighted cuts to the science based engines that underlie our medical, economic and military might.

I urge you to take an honest look at your extended families and the benefits provided by federally funded research. The revolutionary technologies and lifesaving medical research the next forty years hold in store are only drawings on the back of a napkin today and will remain that way without the funding to make them happen.

To ensure our nation remains strong, it is important to contact your Congressional representatives and even consider taking a bigger step. To that end, I feel so passionately about the need for smart, forward-thinking policies that I am running for the United States Senate because I want my son to grow up in an America that is backed by solid science and full of promise. I truly hope that others, of all political backgrounds and philosophies, who understand the need for strong science underpinnings will also consider taking a similar step.

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.
-- Elton Trueblood (1900-1994)

 

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