The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 02, 2017 1:00 am

Science needs continued financial support

Hudson Freeze

The recent White House budget proposal slashes federal science budgets, decimating our road to future innovations. That's not the America we know: the leader in science, the innovator, and the job creator we already are.

The 1960s revolution started in the hot springs of Yellowstone – the biotechnology revolution, that is. The National Science Foundation made a small investment in a research trip by IU professor Thomas Brock and myself, his undergraduate research assistant. That single government investment helped launch the nearly half-a-trillion-dollar biotechnology industry. That's not the only example where federal funding in basic science spurred giant leaps in industries such as biotechnology.

Trump's budget proposes to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, which funds some 45 percent of all medical research at U.S. colleges and universities, by $7.16 billion (21 percent). It would also slash the NSF by $800 million (10.8 percent), stifling science across all fields. Federally funded research affects your life every day – manufacturing to agriculture, national security to health. It also provided a $2 an hour job for an IU student to get his feet wet (literally) in field research and make a game-changing discovery.

Plain curiosity about how bacteria could possibly survive in Yellowstone's boiling cauldrons led to the discovery that would later transform human medicine and much more. That heat-loving organism – known colloquially as Taq – had already figured out something medical researchers and drug developers desperately needed: a way to copy DNA at high temperatures.

Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Kary Mullis convinced Taq's own DNA-copying enzyme to amplify any DNA millions of times. Called the polymerase chain reaction, this single “hot discovery” revolutionized modern medicine. Whether it's about your own health care or your favorite crime show, this cornerstone technology is right there accurately testing for genetic diseases, infections, catching criminals or freeing the innocent. PCR enabled the monumental feat of sequencing the human genome. And now every cutting-edge drug or vaccine relies on this crucial tool.

For generations, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have applauded and supported continued investment in basic and applied research. They witnessed and celebrated the profound and positive effects that these investments have on their own constituents' health, our economy and America's unrivaled global leadership in science and medicine. Some even came to celebrate the stories like Taq, showing how even silly-sounding science titles revolutionize our lives.

It's been a century since Dr. Alois Alzheimer described the disease that bears his name; yet, we still have no effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease. In Indiana, this disease will affect more than 110,000 people this year. That number will grow significantly over the next few years, probably affecting someone close to you. Alzheimer's disease costs the U.S. $175 billion through Medicare and Medicaid. And the families: they spend $56 billion out of pocket to care for their loved ones. Will the next giant leap come from a researcher in the laboratories of Eli Lilly right here in Indiana, in one of their partnerships around the U.S., or another geochemist studying extreme forms of life in some far-flung location? We can't know, but that's why America has always taken a broad approach to supporting science. We can't stop now.

As a biomedical researcher at the front lines of health care, I know that investments in fundamental, curiosity-driven science lead to unexpected, groundbreaking discoveries that cure diseases, protect our country, and drive the Hoosier economy and that of the whole country.

We applaud Indiana's members of Congress for their recent efforts to reject proposed cuts coming from this White House and fund vital research and development investments in a bipartisan way for the rest of this fiscal year. Don't stop. We urge them and their colleagues to once again show that funding research has been and continues to be a favored bipartisan pastime. Let the revolution continue; we're winning. Go make a difference.

Hudson Freeze, a native of Garrett, is director and professor of the Human Genetics Program at the Sanford Children's Health Research Center, and president of FASEB, representing 125,000 biomedical researchers. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, where he made his Golden Goose Award-winning discovery of the bacteria known as Taq.

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