Sequester cuts to NIH, scientific research would hit Pa. especially hard

    Among the cuts set to take effect with the sequester is a 5.1 percent reduction in National Institutes of Health funding.

    Pennsylvania got $1.4 billion from the federal agency last year, the fourth highest in the country, so area research institutions and those who work there have a lot on the line.

    NIH director Francis Collins said the uncertainty brought about by the sequester makes an extremely difficult environment for leading science research.

    “The cycle time for scientific projects tends to be in the nature of four to five years, and yet this year we’ve been living almost from month to month,” Collins said in a conference call to reporters.

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    It is also a difficult environment for young researchers to launch careers.

    Dr. Lindsay Jubelt, who’s looking for a job for when her fellowship ends this summer, said she’s gotten the same response from all the institutions she’d contacted.

    “We’re not sure yet what our funding looks like, we want to wait, get back in touch with us,” Jubelt said. “I think that hesitancy is coming from the unknown about the NIH.”

    NIH funding has held relatively constant for the past decade; with inflation factored in, it has actually decreased, according to the NIH’s Collins.

    Some argue early career researchers are hardest hit by budget constraints.

    Third-year doctoral student Nicole Aiello said, even early on, job success is closely tied to funding.

    “It would really help me if I could secure a grant on my own, because when I’m looking for post-doctoral positions, that’s a huge factor into whether I get it,” Aiello said. “Can you bring money into the lab?”

    Aiello does research at the University of Pennsylvania in a lab focusing on pancreatic cancer. About 80 percent of the lab’s budget comes from NIH funding.

    If the 5.1 percent reduction were applied to 2012 funding, Philadelphia medical schools, academic medical centers, and hospitals would have lost almost $38 million, according to the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council.

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