Medical researchers protest $60 million of slashed funds in Corbett budget proposal

    Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget would cut almost $60 million of medical research money that used to come from the state’s Tobacco Settlement Fund.

    Under the budget released last week, the money would be re-directed to the Department of Public Welfare to pay for long-term care.

    Dr. Jon Chernoff, scientific director at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, said the move would negatively impact  research being conducted by local institutions on a variety of health conditions.

    “My first reaction is you’ve got to be kidding me, and my second reaction is this is going to be devastating,” Chernoff said.

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    Fox Chase gets about $3 million a year from tobacco fund money to finance cancer research, making it the institution’s second largest funding stream. With federal research budgets tightening, Chernoff said state money is more important than ever.

    “There would be some talented young people who are going to exit their career in science,” Chernoff said.

    Leaders from research institutions in Philadelphia and the region are gearing up to lobby legislators in Harrisburg as they wrangle over the budget in the coming months. Elizabeth O’Brien of the Wistar Institute is spearheading efforts to save the CURE program, which dispenses the funds.

    “Medical research requires consistent, long-term public support, which the CURE program has provided. If the funding is discontinued, experiments will have to be halted,” O’Brien said. “Even if the funding is restored in a year, it’s not as simple as turning the lights back on in the laboratory.”

    Danielle Reed at the Monell Chemical Senses Center is working on a study that looks at how second-hand smoke influences infections in kids. She says it is funded through the CURE program, and if the budget proposal goes through, it would stop.

    “One of these things that the funds do is not only support basic biomedical research, but really allow us to study people in the state who have their own unique health situations,” Monell said.

    In a statement, the Department of Health said redirecting the funds would have a direct impact on providing services to Pennsylvanians in need.

    “In order to ensure that critical services continue and the safety net is preserved during these prolonged difficult times, difficult policy choices are necessary,” the statement said.

    The money from the tobacco settlement fund was earmarked for health spending by the Pennsylvania legislature back in 2001.

    Since 2009, money from the fund, which also goes to smoking cessation and prevention programs and health insurance, has been diverted to the general fund to balance the budget.

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