Do you know anyone whose life hasn't been touched by disease? As I get older I become more aware that the frenetic life I lead and call normal could be interrupted in the blink of an eye.
We all know the drill. People in our lives are just going about their business when something goes amiss -- a twitch in their leg, some dizziness, a lump, a pain, an abnormal result, an accident, an ambulance, a hospitalization, a doctor's visit, a test, a diagnosis. A new reality. A replacement of what once was to a new normal.
I can conjure up times in my life that disease has interrupted life just like that. Here are just a few that were easy to recall; I am sure you have just as many.
- "I didn't see this coming -- I thought it was my heart medication." -- My father after his leukemia diagnosis.
- "This week, I found a lump in my breast." -- My friend when she put her hand on my arm after I asked what's new.
- "My dad is at the end of life after battling Alzheimer's." -- My colleague after her dad began his final days.
- "My doctor had told me I would be dead in three years." -- My friend recounting how in the earlier days of the AIDS epidemic there was no prospect of survival.
- "I also realize that while I have what may be the nastiest cancer out there, I have it easy compared to others." -- My friend describing his fight against pancreatic cancer.
That moment when you or someone you love become a patient, the patient. And then what?
Well, hopefully the wonders of science and medical research will have led to good therapeutic options for you. At our recent Celebration of Science event, we witnessed scientific discovery literally unfold on the stage of the National Institutes of Health as scientists and patients told breathtaking stories of research triumph. Here's a glimpse of how scientific discoveries have improved health and saved lives. It's remarkable. But, consider that of the 4,000 diseases for which we have the exact molecular basis, only 250 have treatments available.
So, while we need to celebrate the success stories in medical research that allow us to carry on our lives -- be those successes through prevention, diagnostics, devices, or medical intervention -- we have more work to do. We must ensure that we continue to have a robust flow of scientific discoveries that we can then translate into better health.
The well-being of too many of our friends and family depends on this.
The pathway to treatments and cures is littered with failure, lack of funding, scientific and regulatory challenges, reimbursement issues, health care delivery issues, and if that is not enough there are immediate challenges like the impending fiscal cliff and sequestration. Decisions that our reelected President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress will make could substantially impact the future of treatments and cures.
I could cite data to show how medical research matters.
- It saves lives.
- It creates jobs.
- It maintains us leadership in the global economy.
- People's lives depend on it.
We face a major paradox -- that the potential of science is greater than ever but the outlook for funding has never been bleaker. If an agreement on how to prevent sequestration doesn't happen, here's what we'd see:
- U.S. government science funding programs would see their budgets cut by 8.2 percent in 2013.
- $2.52 billion decline in funding at the NIH.
- 2,300 fewer NIH grants -- representing almost a quarter of new and competing grants.
- Total employment supported by NIH awards would fall by 33,704.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will lose $318 million from its budget, which wasn't adequate to begin with.
- Virtually all user fees paid to the agency to ensure swift application reviews would be considered part of the sequester.
- About 80 percent of the agency's budget is devoted to personnel, so cuts would mean reduced staffing levels or imposing furlough days.
So, given that the need is great, the promise is there, and the arguments in support of this funding are strong, now what?
- Get educated. Go to our website called Sequestration Station to get smart on the issues and see how you can get involved.
- Tell us your story. Be a part of our new social media campaign called Time Equals Lives. We are collecting personal stories -- from patients and scientists, researchers and caregivers, industry executives and academics -- to make a compelling case about the critical importance of medical research. We'll share these stories with leaders and decision makers to remind them of what is at stake.
Because when you or a loved one needed a cure, we want to make sure you knew you'd have someone to call on.
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