NIH-funded research has produced 15 of the 21 most important drugs in the past 25 years. It’s produced almost every major innovative vaccine. It has won 93 Nobel Prizes, reduced the number of heart attacks by 60 percent, and helped scientists to invent one-third of commercially patented medical applications.
Yet support for federally funded research continues to plummet. “America is losing its passion for science,” said Milan Yager, executive director of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, who visited campus last month as the special guest for the Richard and Loan Hill Department of Bioengineering’s first seminar of the academic year.
During his session, Yager talked about the critical need for the U.S. government’s strong partnership with research programs at public universities, its role in helping maintain America’s reputation as a global leader in innovation, and the facts about the decrease in federal funding for basic scientific research.
“While nearly 80 percent of innovations come from funding given to public universities to do research, the NIH has the equivalent buying power 20 percent below a decade ago,” said Yager. “That spending level has caused the
percentage of qualified, NIH research grants to fall from a high of 34 percent to the high teens.”
Yager covered the causes of the declining support of medical research, including political warfare and the realities of living in a post-truth society. He also talked about the effects, such as shifts in the culture of academia, changes in attitudes toward research, and the difficulties students may face in their future careers.
“We’re about to lose one of our most critical components in America’s medical innovation infrastructure. It’s you guys, young investigators,” he said to students. “Grant awards for young investigators under the age of 36 has declined to 1.3 percent. When you get to your lab, federal funding simply won’t be available.”
Providing practical steps and strategies for students to make their case for research funding, Yager encouraged students to change the future landscape of medical research to a more hopeful one. “Get engaged, put the issue back on the table, vote, write an email, attend town hall meetings, and let lawmakers know what you care about.”
“If change is going to happen,” Yager said, “it’s up to one of us in this room today.”