NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—President Donald Trump’s original budget proposal would reduce the National Institute of Health’s annual funding by $7 billion, a move that could negatively affect New Brunswick’s major industry.
That was the message that U.S. Senator Robert Menendez hoped to send on April 12 when he visited the Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Brunswick, discussed the effect the budget would have on American citizens.
“Rutgers brings doctors and scientists, faculty, staff, and students together, to find new cures and improve public health, to drive innovation and pioneer new treatments, to ease the suffering of patients and ultimately, to save lives,” said Menendez.
“I’m here today for a simple reason, to defend the federal funding that makes it all possible.”
Menendez took aim at the proposed 18% funding cut to the the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federal agency under the United States Department of Health and Human Services that has already seen massive cuts in the past 14 years.
Menedendez said he had hoped the budget would have focused on public education, healthcare, and job growth, amongst other issues important for Americans.
“Unfortunately the President has given us a preliminary budget that is not only light on details, but I believe devoid of empathy and vision,” said Menendez.
“If budgets are moral blueprints for the country, then this budget is morally bankrupt.”
The reduction in biomedical research funding would have impact the NIH’s ability to provide funding to cancer research centers, including the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
New Jersey is the second-largest recipient of NIH funding in the United States, receiving over $240 million in grants and contracts. Menendez said those funds supported nearly 5,000 jobs across, and spurred over $890 million in economic activity.
The NIH consists of 27 separate institutes and centers that conduct research in various biomedical science fields and is also a major provider of federal funding for non-government research facilities.
Menendez went on the stress the importance of federal funding in major life-changing advances and breakthroughs in the healthcare field, particularly research.
“I want those breakthroughs to take place right here in New Jersey… Proposing such massive cuts sends a message to some of our nation’s most brilliant minds, that their life’s work is not a national priority.”
His message was well-received by his colleagues in Congress, who ultimately voted on a budget deal that would increase the agency’s funding by $2 billion.
The issue was somewhat personal for Menendez, who said his mother had died of Alzheimer’s disease.
“As Americans grow older, as chronic diseases become more prevalent, as healthcare grows more expensive, our need for more cures and therapies will only grow more urgent,” said Menendez, saying politicians should support the cause of reserach “because disease has no political agenda, because health disorders have no partisan affiliation, [and] because the heartbreak of losing a loved one to cancer or to addiction or to Alzheimer’s as I did, is universal.”
Dr. Steven Libutti, Director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, thanked Menendez for his support and reiterated the importance of NIH funding in the fight against cancer.
“Cancer centers like ours depend heavily on funding from the National Institutes of Health. It supports our basic clinical population and translational research,” said Libutti, noting that “groundbreaking discoveries” impact patients in New Jersey and around the globe.
“New Jersey ranks high in cancer incidents with approximately 50,000 new cancer cases each year…and 16,000 deaths.”
Rutgers’ Cancer Institute of New Jersey, located on Little Albany Street, is the only National Cancer Institute designated comprehensive cancer center in New Jersey.
According to the Institute’s website, they are, “dedicated to improving the prevention, detection, treatment, and care of patients with cancer, through the transformation of laboratory discoveries into clinical practice – outsmarting cancer with science.”
Libutti also discussed the correlation between cancer research and the growing number of cancer survivors.
“Rutgers Cancer Institute has been a leader in cutting-edge cancer research efforts…Today more than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors and cancer mortality rates are steadily decreasing.”
Without continued funding or research, continued strides would be compromised.
“It’s a transformational time in cancer research… By reducing or even keeping NIH funding at the current levels we are putting that progress in jeopardy.”
New Jersey resident and two-time cancer survivor and advocate, Dee Sparacio, shared her personal experience with cancer and the importance of the NIH and Rutgers Cancer Institute in her victory.
“I’m here today because of cancer research funded by the National Institutes of Health,” Sparacio said. “The successful treatment of my cancer here at the Rutgers Cancer Institute was key to my survival.”
First diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2005, Sparacio’s cancer returned again in 2008.
Sparacio, who has participated in cancer related clinical trials, credits the treatments, research, and developments with her beating the disease.
“The only way we as a country can learn how to reduce our risk for disease, find better treatments, ultimately find a cure and support those with a disease, is through cancer research funded by the NIH.”