Cancer Research In Crisis: Doctors Without Funds Scared Out Of Innovation
Since only one in ten cancers research doctors receive government funding, many doctors are forced to curtail innovative projects. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.
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For many young physician-scientists, financial concerns have nearly eclipsed the pursuit of scientific discovery.
“This is a hard enough field taking care of dying cancer patients, that you should not have to constantly go around applying for money to do research to try to change the clinical situation," said Dr. Jedd Wolchok, a member of a review committee for the National Institutes of Health.
He can attest to how time consuming and futile grant applications can be.
"It's a very rigorous process, and unfortunately the number of grants submitted outweighs the number of those awarded by almost 10-to-1," said Wolchok.
For enthusiastic young scientists, this bleak fact is a harsh wake-up call to the realities of government-funded scientific research.
"So they don't really fund things that are creative ideas that might not, you know, they might work, but they might not," said Dr. Valerie Horsley, a young cancer researcher at Rockefeller University.
Horsley is about to open her own lab, but with only ten percent of applicants to the NIH receiving funding, she is not optimistic that she'll receive a government grant.
"It can take sometimes three or four years for you to get your first grant and that's very scary," said Horsley.
Many physician-scientists have abandoned research in favor of more secure careers. One former scientist who spoke to on the condition of anonymity said he could no longer support himself in such an uncertain climate.
According to Dr. Andrew Schafer of Weill-Cornell Medical College, running a lab is like running a business when business isn't good.
"With uncertainty of funding or renewal of funding on a year-to-year basis, one is never sure of how many people to hire and bankruptcy is always sort of on the horizon," said Schafer.
Many of Schafer's residents elect to not pursue scientific research.
"I'm seeing a lot of potential, an enormous amount of potential young talent basically being squandered by the current situation, so it's very discouraging," said Schafer.
Researchers like Horsley fear that their new and innovative ideas will not be funded, which keeps them from aspiring to any big breakthroughs.
"You just do the work, you know, the bread-and-butter work that the government will fund you for to get the money and you can always use some of that money to do more innovative work," said Horsley. "So you kind of work the system as best you can."