Gene and Tonic: Melting Tumors, Democratic and Republican Groups Against Raising NIH Budget

This has been a great week for biomedical research.

The field of cancer research continues to rock the world as we heard from the AACR conference early in the week.  Have you read the headlines?  There were many impressive studies and trials touted.  Immunotherapy is so hot that it’s literally melting tumors.

And there’s this new technology--not quite ready for prime time yet we hear--called liquid biopsies.  Do you know about these?  They’re what’s left when the tumors melt. 

Now a week like this one where its obvious that our tax dollars for biomedical research are being well spent, we think, is a great time for our leaders to pitch for increasing the NIH budget.  You know, like the NIH Director or the President.  Obama came up with his Precision Medicine Initiative.  Why not go on a roll?

But actually, it was former Republican congressman Newt Gingrich who called this week for increasing the NIH budget in a New York Times Op-Ed column.

Huh?  A Republican asking to raise the budget?  What’s going on here?

Whereas NIH Director, Francis Collins, earlier this year requested a precious 3% increase to the budget and Obama asked congress to fund his Precision Medicine Initiative for -- hold on to your seat -- the impressive sum of $215 million, the Republican Gingrich calls for doubling the NIH budget from $30 to $60 billion.  Now we’re talking.

In his column, Gingrich writes: “As a conservative myself, I’m often skeptical of government “investments.” But when it comes to breakthroughs that could cure — not just treat — the most expensive diseases, government is unique.”

Wow!  A Republican saying that government is the answer.  Is there some kind of reversal going on?

It turns out there is.  We reached out to several Democratic groups and found that they are actually against increased funding of the NIH.  Do you want to hear who they were?

First, we talked to Mothers for Malaria.  This is a group in Marin County, CA who says that “more funding for research simply means more vaccines from which to protect our kids.”

One group from Hawaii is going by the name Aloha Monsanto! and told us that “more greenbacks for geneticists means more DNA in our food.”

And finally, again out of the Bay Area, this time in Berkeley, the Center for Not Applying Any More Research -- you know the people who are for science but please don’t use it! -- they’re calling for a freeze on federal funding until the NIH comes out once and for all against designer babies.

The center president, Marcel Damnitdamnyanovich, wrote us by email, “it’s not just that NIH Director Collins has the guts to come on stage and parody Bob Dylan singing, God’s Answer is Mutating in the Wind, it’s that he does it off key.”

But we don’t want to just quote Democratic groups.  There are many Republicans -- remember Sarah Palin and her disgust for wasting money studying fruit flies -- many Republicans who are against an increase in tax dollars for biomedical research.  

Well, there were the obvious religious ones, for example, the group Christians Against the Descent from Monkeys.   They said, “it’s obvious that the more biological research we fund, the more the pernicious theory of evolution gains a foothold.  Therefore,” they continue, “we advocate suspending all biomedical research funding immediately.”

They weren’t clear whether they still support studies used to justify racism.

Mormons Ain’t Morons was another group that we contacted.  They find genomics research into the migration patterns of humans an offense to their religious freedom.  They are supporting a bill in the Utah legislature called the Religious Freedom from Data Proving that Native Americans are Not Israelites Who Came to America in Boats Lit by the Finger of God Act.

Now it took some looking, but we did find a Republican group who claimed to be secular, the Repubs for Responsibility Coalition.  They argue, perhaps more sophisticatedly, that biological research is eating away at any sense of moral responsibility in our nation and undermining the importance of choice.  As examples, they use the fact that gays are claiming to be born that way, and fat people are saying it’s their microbiome.

That’s Gene and Tonic for April 24th.  Join us again next week.


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