Lab CEO Decries Potential Federal Cuts

Photo/Gina Motisi/CSHL Dr. Bruce Stillman, CEO and president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is seen discussing an experiment with fellow scientists at the cancer research laboratory.

Photo/Gina Motisi/CSHL
Dr. Bruce Stillman, CEO and president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is seen discussing an experiment with fellow scientists at the cancer research laboratory.

By Jano Tantongco

jtantongco@longislandergroup.com

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory may suffer a blow to its research capabilities, in light of proposed federal budget cuts to a major source of the lab’s funding, the National Institute of Health.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget preview, known as “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” has targeted the NIH for a $5.8 billion cut, which would reduce its budget to $25.9 billion.

Dr. Bruce Stillman, CEO and president of the lab, said in a statement the institution’s overall research funding was about $100 million in 2016. Around half of that came from competing for federal grants from agencies, including NIH.

The remainder of the funds, he said, come from a mixture of endowment and philanthropic sources, including several local, Long Island sources.

“We are grateful for the support that we receive directly from this community, especially as we confront the political challenges to scientific progress coming from Washington, D.C.,” Stillman said. “The Trump Administration’s proposed 18 percent real dollar cut to the NIH budget would have a devastating effect on biomedical research at CSHL and across the entire country.”

Since 2004, Congress’ failure to act has diminished the capabilities of the NIH, Stillman added, pointing to a 20 percent inflation-adjusted decline in the agency’s budget since that time. He said researchers are now “receiving less money to perform work that costs much more to do,” in light of rapid increases in the cost of research in the “genome age.”

As one of the nation’s few Cancer Centers designated by the National Cancer Institute, Stillman said, half of the lab’s research funding focuses on understanding the various types of cancer and strategies for diagnosis and treatment.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the medical and healthcare crises that we face as a nation today can only be solved by continued progress in scientific research to understand the biological underpinnings of diseases that plague us,” Stillman added.

As a concrete example of the lab’s work, Stillman cited the development of a drug known as Spinraza, a recently FDA-approved treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neurological disease.

“Children right here on Long Island are benefiting from this drug today!” Stillman stated.

He said the idea for the drug came about when CSHL researchers realized about a decade ago that they could use RNA splicing to fix a genetic defect that caused the disease. This discovery, Stillman stated, was a result of NIH funding, with the development of the drug made possible through both public and private funding.

Trump’s full budget is expected to be released in May, according to published reports.

If the cuts come to fruition, Stillman said CSHL’s endowment would need to be doubled, something that would be “very difficult to achieve,” with private funding becoming “increasingly critical.”