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Biomedical community watching primary closely

Friday, May 14th, 2010



Voters in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Primary may have a big say in the future of biomedical research.

Over the past several weeks, the democratic candidates for US Senate in Pennsylvania have blasted each other in advertisements and speeches, contrasting their views. But there’s at least one issue where Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Joe Sestak are quite similar.

Specter: I have championed federal funding for National Institutes of Health and biomedical research.

Sestak: Health care and the research needed – particularly in cancer, as well as in other areas – is what drove me to Congress with my daughter’s brain tumor.

Still, the biomedical community is watching this race closely. Voters in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Primary may have a big say in the future of biomedical research.

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Few Senators are as revered among the biomedical community as Arlen Specter.

Sigal: He’s a hero.

Elen Sigal is the chair of the non-profit group Friends of Cancer Research.

Sigal: He’s an extraordinary hero in our world. He has not only talked the talk, but he has delivered for us in multiple, multiple occasions.

Specter was instrumental in the late 1990s in getting the budget doubled for the National Institutes of Health — the United States’ main funding agency for medical research. He also pushed for getting an extra $10 billion for the NIH added to last year’s stimulus package.

For postdoctoral researcher Stacy Gelhous, it was a move she won’t forget.

Gelhaus:
As a young investigator myself it’s really important that the government recognize the importance of science and the research enterprise.

Important enough that the University of Pennsylvania scientist switched from being a Republican to vote for Specter in the Democratic primary.

Specter and challenger, Congressman Joe Sestak, are in a tight race. If the incumbent loses,

Carney:
Certainly it’s going to be a major blow.

Joanne Carney is the director of the center for science, technology and congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But it won’t be a total loss. Carney says Sestak has authored legislation supporting cancer research. He’s also shown support for biotechnology companies.

The greater threat to research could come from the likely Republican nominee, Pat Toomey. Carney says when Toomey was a House member he sponsored an amendment to retract certain NIH grants that dealt with drug abuse and sexual behavior.

Carney: That memory may be a bit raw still within the biomedical research community.

Carney and Elen Sigal from Friends of Cancer Research note that they don’t endorse candidates.


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