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UMass Chan rallies with Congressman McGovern in push for increased NIH funding

Doctors, scientists ask what they can do to increase public awareness, support for biomedical research

UMass Medical School doctors and scientists rallied behind calls from U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern to boost NIH funding for biomedical research, at a UMMS public forum moderated by Chancellor Michael F. Collins on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

"We [the U.S. Congress] should be talking about expanding the amounts spent on medical research,” McGovern said. “I can't figure out why [we’re not], because everybody has benefitted from NIH research in one way or another."

The discussion panel included Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor in Medical Education, dean of the School of Medicine and provost and executive deputy chancellor; Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research and chair and professor of neurology; and Katherine Luzuriaga, MD, professor of molecular medicine, pediatrics and medicine, and associate provost for global health. Leading experts in cystic fibrosis, ALS and HIV/AIDS respectively, Drs. Flotte, Brown and Luzuriaga traced exactly how NIH funding over their careers has enabled them to achieve significant advances in understanding and treating these diseases.

Luzuriaga recounted the pivotal role of NIH support, beginning early in her career when the HIV/AIDS crisis erupted in the 1980s.

“Fast forward 30 years after the first description of HIV in kids, the number of new infections around the world has gone from about 500,000 to 250,000 per year,” she said. “And in the United States new HIV infections of babies are virtually unheard of.”

Walter Koroshetz, MD, deputy director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, also spoke at the UMMS event.

“To actually effect change it takes people like yourself to go out and when you’re mowing the lawn and talking to your neighbor,” Dr. Koroshetz said. “Try to engage them and tell them what NIH is doing and why it’s important.”

Also on the panel representing the biomedical industry was Donald T. Mois, PhD, chief scientific officer for Microbiotix, a local company founded by UMMS faculty. Dr. Mois explained how NIH funding for drug discoveries in academia helps companies like Microbiotix focus on their strengths in drug development to bring new therapies to patients.