This decade has been disheartening to diabetes scientists, not because their scientific discovery and progress has slackened, but precisely the opposite. Scientific journals are replete with new basic and clinical research findings that fire imaginations about a better world for diabetic patients in the near future. Funding the research has been the big problem. Funds that are so critical to our progress on the road to preventing and curing diabetes have been drastically constrained in the past several years by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) because of budget shortfalls (wars and economic downturns are expensive). The tragic irony is all too clear. In a time of unparalleled accumulation of important new knowledge and fresh scientific insights into prevention and reversal of diabetes complications, the financial resources to take full advantage of recent leaps in knowledge have been hard to come by.
With the NIH being essentially flat-funded for the past several years, the research community has lost ground to inflation at this time of immense opportunity. While it is impossible for ADA to take up all the slack, we recognize we must protect our scientific future by maintaining important ongoing research efforts. The ADA Research Policy Committee (RPC) took steps this past year to safeguard clinical translation of research and to protect our most vulnerable research scientists. The latter are new scientists just beginning research careers as well as established scientists caught in the crossfire of budget shortfalls as they attempt to renew their awarded grants. These steps include the following: 1) the proportion of funds awarded to human-based clinical projects was brought to parity with funds awarded to basic science projects and 2) support was prioritized for young scientists beginning their careers and for meritorious established scientists whose research programs have been compromised by current economic circumstances. To do this, the RPC reluctantly decided to temporarily discontinue new funding of established investigators already receiving over $500,000 annually for their personal research.
Several other good things have evolved during this important decision making. First, the RPC is constructing a new strategic plan for its funding policies and will use it for future decisions. The scientific vision inherent in this plan will position the RPC to formulate responses to future challenges in a timely and proactive manner. Second, the ADA Executive Committee had an eye-opening experience watching the struggles of ADA-funded scientists and resolved to increase ADA research funding significantly. While the final dollar amounts are still being hammered out by the Board of Directors, the overall ADA strategic plan written in 2008 is clearly committed to increasing the current total ADA revenue of $233 million to $300 million in the year 2011. If this plan is successful, this 29% increase in revenue would result in at least a comparable increase in research funding by 2011. The ADA strategic plan also commits to maintaining its percentile funding of research applications by 2011 to a level that exceeds the prevailing funding percentile of NIH.
All that I have written above was composed before the very recent dramatic falls in stock market values across the globe. It is impossible to know where things will be in January, when the publication process is finished and this editorial sees the light of day. Clearly, the current financial gyrations will impact the ability of ADA to raise and even sustain current contributions to research. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to believe that as markets recover and as a new administration is installed in the White House in 2009, hope is justified that funding for all NIH-funded research will eventually be restored to reasonable levels. History and conventional wisdom tell us that failed markets, and all that they affect in society, will eventually recover. The message is to take heart, hold on a bit tighter and even longer, and anticipate better times in the future. In the meantime, ADA will conduct its business of supporting clinical and basic support of research designed to conquer diabetes to the best of its ability, all the while firmly believing that failure is not an option.
R.P.R. is the president of Science and Medicine, American Diabetes Association.
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