President Trump yesterday released an outline of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which includes sweeping, across-the-board cuts for science agencies. The proposal would take a $5.8 billion bite out of current funding for the National Institutes of Health, an 18 percent decrease from the annualized 2017 continuing resolution level of almost $32 billion. Trump proposes a similar 18 percent cut for the wider Department of Health and Human Services, scaling spending back to $69 billion. The document, America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, calls for a “major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities.” It is unclear how these cuts will affect federal funding into research on Alzheimer’s and related dementias, as the blueprint contains no detail about how cuts should be distributed.
“This could negate much of the great progress we have seen over the last several years and could directly impede our ability to reach the goals laid out in the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA),” wrote Bruce Lamb, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, to Alzforum. “Any cuts will certainly slow progress to reach the goal of having a cure or treatment by the year 2025.”
With hefty cuts to foreign aid, climate science, and biomedical research, among others, the proposal has already met backlash from both sides of the aisle. “This partisan Trump budget is an absolute non-starter,” wrote Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) in a statement on her website. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) echoed that sentiment in his own statement: “I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are Draconian, careless, and counterproductive.” Any budget has to pass through Congress, which ultimately has the power of the purse, he continued, so the proposal is likely to change considerably. “As the full budget picture emerges in the coming weeks, I am optimistic that we can work with the Administration to responsibly fund the federal government,” Rogers added.
Research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias has robust bipartisan support. “We are hopeful that congressional champions of this research will resist and not reduce NIH spending or Alzheimer’s investments,” said George Vradenburg of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He noted that the pending FY2017 appropriations bills from Congressional subcommittees propose an increase in NIH and Alzheimer’s investments (Jun 2016 news; Jul 2016 news). Any cuts could deter new talent from entering the field, and shift leadership in biomedicine to other countries that are increasing their investment, such as the U.K., Vradenburg said. Furthermore, starving Alzheimer’s research could spell disaster for the country’s fiscal future because of the expense of caring for people with dementia, he added.
Todd Golde, University of Florida, Gainesville, is among many academic researchers who depend heavily on federal funds. He is curious to see if areas like Alzheimer’s, which have a greater lobbying power than some other diseases, are going to be protected. Even so, there will be a devastating ripple effect across NIH. “You can’t cut science by 20 percent and not feel it,” Golde said. The hard-fought progress to get Alzheimer’s research funding on the right track could suffer a drastic about-face. “We’re turning the clock back rather than preparing for the future,” he said. He hopes Congress will reject the cuts proposed in the outline.
Stephen Ginsberg, Nathan Kline Institute and NYU School of Medicine, noted that the budget proposal raises a larger question of how research is valued. Ginsberg echoed the concern of everyone interviewed that young scientists will stay away from areas that go unsupported by federal dollars, reversing the recent influx of young people attracted by the swelling budgets of the past couple of years. “When you cut budgets, you’re breaking up continuity,” he said. “We seemed to be on the right track, now it’s being derailed.” One consolation could be that more scientists could become politically motivated, he said.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib
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