Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Dean Reece Says Consistent Strong NIH Funding is Necessary to Sustain Momentum
E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was one of the leaders of academic medicine who gathered in Washington today to thank the Obama Administration, Congress and the American taxpayers for the much-needed medical research funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Dean Reece is chair of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which convened the medical leaders at a news conference at the National Press Club today.
The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received $40 million in stimulus funding so far, although most of the Recovery Act funding has yet to be awarded. The grants support work in cutting-edge fields such as personalized medicine — in which each patient’s care is tailored to their genetic make-up — organ transplantation, stem cell research, health disparities and gene therapy. In fiscal 2009, School of Medicine researchers brought in nearly $500 million in external research funding, most of it from the National Institutes of Health.
“The stimulus funds already awarded to the School of Medicine will support 30 jobs and top-tier research that brings hope to the patients who are waiting on our scientists to develop new cures and a better understanding of human health,” says Dean Reece, who also serves as Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor at the School of Medicine.
“This preliminary ARRA funding has kept our research enterprise strong despite a constrained NIH budget,” adds Dean Reece. “Biomedical research is about investment, with the associated short- and long-term return on that investment. The long-term benefit includes bringing hope to patients with new cures and preventive tools to improve human health, and also serving as a major economic engine. In the short term, our research can rejuvenate the struggling economy by the creation of well-paying jobs and more.”
“The School of Medicine and its affiliated hospital system brought to the state of Maryland an economic impact of approximately $5 billion in fiscal 2009,” says Dean Reece. “The ARRA funds enable us to grow our economic footprint by recruiting new research scientists to explore exciting, growing fields such as stem cell research. The stimulus act also funds the networks of staff to support them. These innovative new projects explore cutting-edge ideas about the future of medicine and bring much-needed jobs to Maryland. We hope both the science and the jobs will last long after the stimulus dollars are spent.
"For this momentum that we’ve gained from the ARRA funds to blossom into cures that will save lives years down the road, we are dependent on a robust and sustained NIH support," Dean Reece continues. "We’re very excited about this 'shot in the arm,' but we need continued and consistent funding of biomedical research to achieve the greatest possible benefit for human health and the economy.”
The funds NIH provides to the University of Maryland School of Medicine support research that directly affects human health worldwide. Earlier this year, the School of Medicine founded its Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, recruiting renowned stem cell pioneer Curt Civin, M.D., as its first director. ARRA funds will help get the Center off the ground, including facilitating the recruitment of a young researcher dedicated to exploring the promise of stem cells for the treatment of cancer. Stem cell transplants already are used in pediatric oncology to treat leukemia, made possible by discoveries made in Dr. Civin’s lab using funding from the NIH.
“In pediatric oncology, stem cell research has led to cures,” says Dr. Civin. “The work being funded by the ARRA gives us the hope that stem cells could treat other cancers as well. The stimulus funding is a great start to get us going, but we’re dependent on continued strong funding of the NIH to sustain that momentum and to bring hope to cancer patients and their families.”
In August, funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH, enabled School of Medicine scientists to begin the first testing of the H1N1 vaccine in the U.S. as the government braced to protect the population from the 2009-2010 influenza season. School of Medicine faculty led nationwide trials of the vaccine in adults, seniors and children, and found the vaccine to be safe and effective. The American people began receiving the immunization in mid-October.
Also in August, University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers published a study showing new promise for personalized medicine to improve outcomes for cardiovascular disease patients. The NIH-funded study showed that a gene variant found in 30 percent of Americans makes heart disease patients unable to respond to the popular anti-clotting medication Plavix. A simple genetic screening test could identify patients for whom Plavix won’t work, allowing doctors to personalize each patient’s care based on personal genetic information. The study was made possible by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Science, part of the NIH.
“The stimulus funds are a wonderful boost to research that means hope for so many patients and their families,” says Dean Reece. “But we need Congress to provide consistent strong funding for the NIH to make these cures possible and to achieve the added benefit of helping to revitalize the economy of Maryland and the entire U.S.”