“I was working on breast cancer,” Delston said. “And I was really trying to answer one of the biggest questions in cancer research today.” That is, which genetic mutations drive the formation of tumors — and could be good targets for anti-cancer drugs. Delston says her research was going great. She was about two and half years into what was supposed to be a five-year project.
“So you’re really just at the heart of the project, right in the middle of it, right in the thick of it,” Delston said. “And it was a real shock to get laid off.”
Delston lost her job because the National Institutes of Health didn’t renew the grant that was supporting her research.
Her former boss, Washington University cancer biologist Jason Weber, blames sequestration for the loss of funding. He had the bad luck to have all three of his federal grants come up for renewal this year. None of them got funded.
“I had to let go of some folks, and I had to let go of some science,” Weber said. Six months ago, Weber’s lab supported about a dozen researchers and graduate students. Now he’s down to fewer than half that.
He says Delston’s research was just hitting its stride. They were getting ready to test some of her findings in cancer patients and were working with a pharmaceutical company on a potential new treatment. “Now we can’t do any of that,” Weber said. “She’s gone, and the science is gone because I don’t have anybody to work on it.”
The disintegration of research groups and programs is something that’s rarely discussed. It’s not that you get X% less research per program (we’ll get to that in a bit), but that X% research programs fall apart. Then there’s the inflation problem–which is slowly squeezing research budgets:
And she says the decline in government support is nothing new: the budget for the National Institutes of Health has been stagnant for the past 10 years.
“That’s caused a reduction in buying power of about 25 percent over the decade,” Lodge said. “And so that means we’re doing 25 percent less research than we were doing a decade ago. And that’s very, very discouraging for our investigators.”
By the way, if you ever feel like you’re being played for a sucker, well…
“I’ve talked with some folks who are successful businessmen who are astounded and frankly laugh when they hear about the amount of work that scientists are willing to do to get a level of funding that they believe amounts to something akin to crumbs,” Tait said.
Anger is the appropriate emotion.