State of the Scientific Union 2016: A New Hope

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Science is as much about healing and understanding the world around us, as it is about giving people inspiration so they can whisper to themselves, “wow, anything is possible!”

Last year, I gave my first State of the Scientific Union Address. It was a rally cry to get scientist to communicate more with the public. It was a hope that scientists along with the public could sway the powers that be and inject much needed life lines to not only continue valuable research, but to also start studying new areas that will affect us in the future.

Along with many scientific organizations like AAAS and ASBMB, as well as more scientists engaging with the public through personal communication, blogs, and other social media, I think the tide is beginning to turn.

Recently, a bipartisan success story has injected 2 billion extra dollars into the NIH representing a more than 6% increase. This is significant! Especially considering since 2003, it has increased less than 12% (or less than 1% per year). If accounting for inflation, that “12%” increase is actually a 22% decrease (1, 2). This is crazy when you consider what the the NIH has done for human health and if you don’t care about people, here is what the NIH does for the economy.

This money represents a new hope, a new commitment, and a new conversation about the importance of biomedical research in this nation (sometimes optimism is a good thing to have). It represents good things for me as well such as a 41% increase since 2013 (and likely more to come) in my ability to get a new grant to fund my research as a new principal investigator my soon to be laboratory at the University of Arizona in Immunobiology where I will study new and novel ways to combat infectious diseases.

This money will support so many new initiatives in studying the black box between our ears (the brain), understanding how our DNA can prevent person A from getting sick, but not person B, and trying to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria (1,2). You can hear about some of these new directions from the Director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins talk about here in this Science Sound Bites Podcast Episode (episode 11).

The president wants us to cure cancer. While that claim might underestimate the magnitude tasks (there is not just one cancer), with advances like this one maybe we can convert the cells to something harmless. That discovery combined with new advances in epigenetic mapping of things that make us us, and a new tool called CRISPR (pronounced like crisper) becoming more main stream to study how genes (and the proteins they encode) work, we are gaining ground not only in the fight against cancer(s), but all diseases.

However, our work is not done and our fight is far from over. We as scientists must continue to keep open lines of communication with the community, adults and children. We want people to say “what if I cured…” and go on to cure it! We all must dream bigger and work together better. We as a people have made it this far, with more support, anything will be possible.




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