Scientific research is a critical national investment, providing strong economic and societal benefits along with new knowledge that helps us all.
Scientific discoveries in my area of expertise, microbial pathogenesis, allow us to prevent and combat rare illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease or prevalent infectious ailments like Lyme disease that affect New Yorkers far and wide. Yet the White House’s budget proposal seeks to walk away from this investment, threatening our nation’s ability to develop treatments for disease, maintain our technological leadership, ensure a more prosperous energy future, and train the next generation of scientists and innovators. President Donald Trump’s budget, for instance, would slash the National Institutes of Health’s budget by 22 percent.
U.S. investments in scientific and engineering research and development have created millions of jobs and improved state economies. According to the Congressional Research Service, scientists and engineers account for about 5 percent of the nation’s workforce, but they help create many jobs across the economy. Scientists’ discoveries and products extend beyond the lab, affecting people across the business sector — from designers to builders to consumers.
Much of my work focuses on understanding how microbes cause human disease. I study Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacterium that has caused disease in soldiers wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve worked with a wounded soldier whose leg was amputated after acquiring an infection with this microbe. Soldiers like him have reached out to encourage my work in understanding how this bacterium causes disease and why it develops resistance to commonly used antibiotics. The proposed 22 percent NIH budget cut would impede our fight against infectious diseases.
When considering the 2018 budget, Congress must continue its support for investment in basic and applied scientific research. Other countries recognize the enormous value of research and development and the foundation it lays for enhancing 21st century economic growth and global competitiveness. For example, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, from 2000 to 2013, China’s investments in research and development grew 17 percent, South Korea’s 8.3 percent and Russia’s 8.2 percent, while the U.S. investment stagnated. There is a realization among global leaders that such investments are critical in determining a nation’s ability to grow its economy.
Despite our advancement in the control of microorganisms, the eradication of infectious diseases remains a challenge. Microbe-related diseases kill thousands of Americans each year, while incapacitating thousands more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies Acinetobacter baumannii infections as a serious threat and estimates that 12,000 infections occur in the United States each year. Nearly 7,000 of these infections are multidrug-resistant, resulting in about 500 deaths.
Appropriate funding of infectious disease research would help us develop effective diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.
I applaud Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, all of New York, for providing robust funding for research and development in the recently passed 2017 appropriations, and I urge them to further strengthen our national commitment to investing in scientific research as they negotiate the 2018 budget.
Luis R. Martinez is an associate professor of biomedical sciences at the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury.