During a recent press conference, the three U.S.-based winners of the 2013 Nobel medicine prize discussed their concern that the governmentfunded research leading to their discoveries on human cell transport systems might not have been possible in today’s sequestration and budget-cutting environment. According to a news source, all three scientists, Randy Schekman, Thomas Suedhof and James Rothman, have received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during their careers to conduct basic research. They suggested that NIH funding for basic research “made America the great engine of biomedical discovery” and contributed to the growth of the nation’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. That funding has apparently fallen significantly, and what remains is increasingly focused on research that can readily be translated into medical applications.
Schekman began his prize-winning research by studying baker’s yeast, an effort he said he would not have begun without NIH funding. Contending that “federal paralysis is frankly imperiling our biomedical enterprise,” Schekman said, “[m]any of my colleagues, particularly young colleagues, feel they have to work on medically relevant things. For example, yeast, which I continue to view as a valuable model organism, is less popular now because people feel they can’t get NIH funding to work on yeast.” NIH reportedly spends 80 percent of its budget on more than 300,000 research personnel at more than 2,500 universities and research institutions. See Reuters, October 7, 2013.