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Future of medical research is at risk, says Stanford medical school dean

The inability of a congressional "super committee" to deliver a budget proposal has endangered the U.S. medical research enterprise and the potential discovery of future treatments, warns School of Medicine Dean Philip Pizzo, MD, in a commentary published in today's San Jose Mercury News.

In the piece, Pizzo discusses how the committee's inaction is forcing lawmakers to make considerable cuts to domestic programs, including research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, and how reducing this investment will likely slow advancements in medical research that ultimately improve Americans' health. He writes:

Consider the evidence: The death rates for heart disease and stroke have fallen by 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, since World War II. Over the past 15 years, the incidence of cancer is down by 11.4 percent among women and 19.2 percent among men because of better detection methods and more effective treatments. Today, individuals diagnosed in their 20s with HIV -- once considered a death sentence -- may receive antiretroviral therapy and live to age 70 or beyond. These and other advances in our health have been built on basic scientific research -- work that may not have had a clear application when it was conducted but which opened the way to a better understanding of human biology. This knowledge then was translated into new tools or devices to diagnose, treat and prevent disease.

For instance, today's lifesaving treatments for HIV were built upon advances in a basic understanding of how the immune system works. I witnessed this personally when I began my own work in pediatric AIDS, which would not have been possible without the basic science discoveries about retroviruses that took place more than a decade before HIV was even known. Similarly, at Stanford, work aimed at understanding how immune cells recognize antibodies ultimately led to a groundbreaking treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, as well as other debilitating conditions.

As Pizzo goes on to say, the improvements to human health are only part of the equation. Medical innovation and discovery are also vital to jobs and economic recovery.

Previously: The economic benefits of publicly funded medical research, Report: NIH investments created $68 billion in economic activity last year, Academic medical centers bring billions to the economy and New initiatives show how federal stimulus dollars advance scientific and medical research

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