FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2006
AUSTIN, TX -- Dollars for health research continue to decrease both nationally and statewide, inhibiting the prevention and cure of diseases.
Federal funding cuts are forcing agencies like the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation to limit grants to universities and medical centers. For example, the National Cancer Institute, under the umbrella of the NIH, a few years ago funded 20 percent of grant requests from all over the country. This year that number has declined to 11 percent and by 2007 that will sink to 10 percent.
At the state level, the even more minimal funds for health and other research are stretched among various departments in our major universities. These cuts affect current and future research and researchers, who may seek private markets or leave the field entirely.
Dr. Daniel Hale, Director of the United States Hispanic Nutrition Research and Education Center at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) asserts that areas like South Texas will be hardest hit. Already this area lacks the infrastructure-sufficient trainers and equipment-required by researchers to conduct their work.
"One of the goals for the RAHC," says Dr. Hale, "is to build that infrastructure and make it an attractive environment for clinical researchers to come to the Valley."
When the Rio Grande Valley Partnership combined with a consortium of academic institutions and government agencies to develop the Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative (NIRI), it met the same financial roadblock. Fortunately, federal earmarked funding has led to 10 nutrition research projects under the RAHC, nine of which are currently operational.
When federal grant dollars are cut, well-established and well-funded investigators, such as at Harvard and UCLA, can continue to compete for the reduced amount of money and bankrupt lesser known institutions.
Future generations of Texans will suffer if the studies that may help us find methods of preventing or better treating cancer and other serious illnesses are further stymied. Even worse, a cure for a disease, such as diabetes, may not be discovered.
The American Cancer Society has designated March as the Nutrition and Colon Cancer Awareness month. Studies have already linked nutrition and life-threatening diseases, indicating that poor diets cause obesity and that obese people show greater tendencies toward these illnesses. Since 64 percent of Americans are overweight, including 30 percent who are obese, improving nutrition is paramount to curbing serious illness and death.
Dr. Robin Fuchs-Young, Associate Professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Science Park Research Division in Smithville, just applied for a $400,000 grant to fund a three-year study to identify the barriers to implementing optimally nutritious school meals. If funded, the findings may shed light on ways to improve nutrition in schools, and prevent the onset of cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses later in life.
The proposal, FRESH (Fruits and Vegetables are required to Enhance Student Health), would test the hypothesis that specific environmental and policy-related barriers are preventing the implementation of optimally nutritious school meals. Once the barriers are identified, the researchers plan to apply strategies to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to replace processed, high fat foods.
The American Cancer Society maintains that besides engaging in moderate activity, people who eat plant-based diets low in animal fat and that contain plenty of fruits and vegetables develop less colon cancer. Unfortunately, this type of healthy eating has lost its place at the family table and in our public school cafeterias, so we must find solutions that will help reinstate these healthy habits and make them affordable to families and school food services.
As the father of a daughter who is battling leukemia, I am deeply interested in finding the money that can both compensate for the federal lag and expand health research. Although it has not been well studied, there is evidence that body weight and calorie intake may play a role in some leukemias and lymphomas.
Similar to Texas in population, California passed legislation requiring 2 cents from every pack of cigarettes sold in the state be used for breast cancer research and early detection programs.
The California Breast Cancer Research Program receives about $15 million annually for high-risk, high-return research. Although all research has risk, that which is high-risk, high-return may not work, but when it does, the outcome can be far-reaching. It is in everyone's interest to support investigators searching for unique and novel ideas in research.
Dr. Fuchs-Young has a message that I strongly echo: "I would hope Americans and Texans would think this was important enough to put some of the money back into research to better understand disease cause and disease prevention."
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.