Several researchers took advantage of Congress’s recent spring break recess to connect with their elected officials while they were at home. On April 19, Laura Niedernhofer, MD, PhD, an associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute Florida and Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Board member, participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in West Palm Beach. The event focused on the role of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in supporting research aimed at understanding addiction and preventing opioid overdose. Overdoses attributed to the use of opioids are a significant problem in Palm Beach County.
Dr. Niedernhofer and several of her colleagues noted that Scripps received $40 million in NIH grants in 2016 to fund research on Alzheimer’s, Zika virus, and cancer, in addition to opioid addiction. They explained that the federal money support efforts to develop less addictive opioids and new drugs that can relieve pain without suppressing the respiratory system which could prevent individuals from dying of an overdose. The new drugs could be ready for testing in humans within a few years.
During a roundtable discussion, participants shared their concerns about proposed cuts to the NIH budget in fiscal year (FY) 2018. Nearly all of Scripps’ research budget comes from the federal government. “It would cripple everything we are doing,” said Dr. Niedernhofer. “And you can’t just pick it back up once the money comes back.” Senator Nelson reassured the researchers that he would do everything he could to make sure NIH continued to receive funding increases from Congress. The roundtable garnered positive press coverage from WPBF (the local ABC affiliate), the Palm Beach Post and Florida Sun Sentinel.
Senator Nelson was not the only one who heard from research advocates last month. After meeting with a staff person from Representative Ted Yoho’s (R-FL) office during FASEB’s Capitol Hill Day, Charles Wood, PhD, the Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Functional Genomics at the University of Florida College of Medicine invited the aide to see his lab. Representative Yoho’s aide visited Gainesville on April 12 to tour several labs on campus including a large animal facility and the Health Science Center. Dr. Wood also arranged for the aide to meet with graduate students as well as the Director of the McKnight Brain Institute. It was a successful day that gave Dr. Wood and his colleagues an opportunity to expand their relationship with their representative and highlight how federal dollars support local research and training of the next generation of scientists. At the end of the visit, Dr. Wood offered to continue to be a resource for Representative Yoho and his staff as Congress develops the FY 2018 budget.
In addition to the efforts in Florida, FASEB Science Policy Committee Member Terry Magnuson, PhD was invited to participate in a research roundtable at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill that was attended by Representative David Price (D-NC). The university also recently hosted a National Science Foundation day with Price and Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) that provided information about the agency’s mission, research priorities, and funding.
Dr. Nicole Baganz (Florida Atlantic University), Dr. Laura Bohn (Scripps Research Institute), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Dr. Courtney Miller, Dr. Kirill Martemyanova, and Dr. Brock Grill of Scripps Research Institute, and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. Photo Courtesy of Dr.Laura Niedernhofer.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) speaks with Dr. Courtney Miller, Dr. Kirill Martemyanova, and Dr. Brock Grill of Scripps Research Institute and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. Photo Courtesy of Dr. Laura Niedernhofer.