The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is a founder and organizing partner of the Rally for Medical Research, which took place for the fourth consecutive year this fall, bringing representatives of 300 organizations together in Washington, D.C., to advocate for continued funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Medical research funding stalled dramatically in 2013, when the government enacted deep federal budget cuts in a period known as a sequester. This past year brought renewed progress, as Congress provided a $2 billion funding increase to the NIH. Currently, the Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed another $2 billion increase for the NIH in fiscal year 2017.
Yet two advocates who shared their day on Capitol Hill with the AACR sound cautionary notes: There is more work to be done.
“This year was special because, for the first time since the sequester, we were able to thank our representatives for a substantial increase to the NIH,” said Anna Woloszynska-Read, PhD. “But even though there are reasons to celebrate, we still need to push even harder and explain the very multifaceted consequences inadequate funding for the NIH has on our society.” Courtesy of Woloszynska-Read and fellow advocate Shaundra Hall, here’s a look at their day on Capitol Hill.
Hall is a cervical cancer survivor whose story was featured in the 2012 AACR Cancer Progress Report. As she prepared for this year’s Rally, she booked some time with a staff member working for U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, who represents Hall’s district in Arizona. She was delighted to run into Franks himself in the foyer of his office. (Hall and Franks are pictured at left.) “I got my elevator speech in,” she says proudly, having conveyed her personal message that the progress stemming from medical research is saving lives. The NIH funds research into all diseases, but Hall noted her own personal interest in gynecological cancers and the human papillomavirus, which causes many of these cancers. After her conversation with Franks, she met with his staffer and made plans to continue the conversation at Franks’ office in Phoenix.
Hall has participated in the AACR’s Scientist↔Survivor program, which unites cancer survivors and patient advocates with scientific researchers. Hall’s participation in the program set her on a new career path, as she now works in medical research administration for a Phoenix-based health care system. “Robust and sustained funding does not solely benefit the patient through drug or device, but is an employment generator as well,” Hall says. Here, she is joined outside Arizona Sen. John McCain’s office by Shimere Williams Sherwood, PhD, who was then the AACR’s associate director of health policy, and Karen Russell Mills, the AACR’s administrative manager of survivor and patient advocacy.
Woloszynska-Read, left, is an assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. Her work focuses on the genetics and epigenetics of bladder and prostate cancers to identify novel preventive and therapeutic strategies. Outside the lab, she has been a part of AACR groups including the Associate Member Council, and has attended previous rallies, part of the AACR’s effort to galvanize young cancer researchers as advocates for robust medical research funding. “I take it as my civic responsibility as a researcher that this is something I need to get involved in,” she says. “We have so much to capitalize on if we can convince others in power to make cancer research funding a top priority.”
Joined by Cynthia S. Chandler, representing the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, and Nicole Boschi, PhD, from the AACR’s Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs, Woloszynska-Read met with staffers for U.S. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-New York) to discuss funding for medical research. Before she became a congresswoman, Slaughter was a microbiologist, giving her a unique perspective on the need to fund scientific research. She’s been a longtime proponent of the NIH, winning the NIH’s Visionary for Women’s Health Research award in 2000 for her role in establishing the NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health. “We did not have to convince anyone there that funding for the NIH is a national problem and has to be a priority for our society,” Woloszynska-Read said. “We focused on identifying other aspects that should be taken into consideration by our representatives when working on legislation, such as the composition of our scientific workforce.”
The Rally for Medical Research brings together some of the most passionate voices in the cancer research community. At right, Woloszynska-Read is joined by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, who rallied the crowd at a reception the night before the Capitol Hill visits. In his speech, Collins outlined 10 top priorities for the NIH to address in the coming decade. “One of them was cancer research,” Woloszynska-Read said. “I do believe that we are at a tipping point, and the time to capitalize on all the amazing scientific work we have been doing is right now.”
In all, the participants in this year’s Rally for Medical Research Hill Day attended more than 250 meetings, representing 37 states and the District of Columbia. They encouraged members of Congress and their staffs to continue working toward robust funding for medical research, and to pass the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2017 that would include a $2 billion funding increase for the NIH. This sustained stream of funding is crucial if we are to continue to improve health, spur progress, inspire hope, and save more lives.
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