CUZ WHO WANTS TO CURE CANCER? Over at The Wall Street Journal, Sharon Begley has an important column on the underfunding of the National Institute of Health and all the promising research that's falling by the wayside. She tells the story of Dan Welch, a molecular oncologist who discovered a molecule that suppresses metastases (and thus, cancer's progression) and sought to test whether it could be switched on to fight the disease. But when he went to the NIH, they said he needed to gather preliminary breast cancer tissue from hundreds of women, a project he simply lacked the funding for.
That, replicated over and over again, is the story of the modern NIH. Clinton had accelerated the agency's funding, but, in 2004, Bush and the Republican Congress shut off the spigot, and money has flat-lined since. That's left a significant gap between the number of promising proposals from reputable scientists that get submitted and the number of promising proposals from reputable scientists that get funded. Even worse, the NIH, like all big institutions, is a bit hidebound and loathe to gamble, so it's been the boldest and riskiest ideas that are getting shot down. Most of these would evaporate, but if a mere couple worked, the implications would be tremendous. These are the tradeoffs we make to fund tax cuts and hopeless wars -- and I wonder if the American people would really prefer another few years in Iraq to fully funding efforts to cure cancer.