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Sequestration hurts medical campus, researchers warn

Federal cuts to research will slow medical progress and impede the economic growth spurred by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, leaders of major scientific institutions here warned Monday.

The National Institutes of Health, the federal agency that allocates grants for cancer research, faces a $1.6 billion cut this year from the automatic budget reductions known as sequestration.

The impact on research facilities across the nation will hurt current and future projects, officials said during a news conference at Roswell Park Cancer Institute that coincided with a rally of thousands of scientists in Washington, D.C., who were attending the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“It has never been a more exciting time for research, but it is challenged by budgetary cuts,” said Dr. Donald L. Trump, president and chief executive officer of Roswell Park.

In 2012, Roswell Park received more than $60 million in direct and indirect funding from the NIH or the National Cancer Institute. The cancer center, which operates on an annual budget of about $500 million, has prepared for a cut in NCI funding of as much as 10 percent, or about $6 million, Trump said.

Such a cut will definitely have an effect, as researchers trim projects, including the potential for the loss of jobs, he said. In addition, Trump tied the growth of the downtown medical campus in recent years partly to the ability of scientists to bring in research grants.

The NIH budget grew through the mid-1990s and into the early 2000s. But scientists say the agency’s funding, when adjusted for inflation, has declined every year since 2004.

Officials raised concern about the potential harm of a “boom-bust” approach to federal research funding. The growth in the NIH budget led biomedical research institutions to expand, but unlike a new bridge or a road, their expenses don’t decline after the initial investment, officials said.

“In health research, we are always in construction mode,” said Eaton Lattman, executive director and CEO of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.

Lattman said he feared that young people will be discouraged from pursuing careers in science research if they can’t obtain grants for their projects.

“The situation is discouraging for young people and for institutions,” he said. “Generous funding is important, but consistency is critical.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, reminded the audience of mainly Roswell Park employees how the cancer institute had grown to become an integral part of Buffalo’s economy since its founding in 1898, after Dr. Roswell Park and Edward H. Butler, publisher of The Buffalo Evening News, persuaded the New York State Legislature to fund the first facility in the world dedicated specifically to cancer research.

Higgins described sequestration as a failure on the part of Congress to meet its obligations to the public. He said the country should be investing more in scientific research and development, not less, noting the related development in and around the downtown medical campus in recent years.

“The growth of Roswell Park and other institutions is creating a residential demand that is creating a commercial demand,” said Higgins.