Editorials

EDITORIAL

Trump NIH cuts threaten Mass.

A woman looks at the title page of US President Donald Trump's proposed budget on the White House website on a smartphone in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2017. In a plan designed to translate bold campaign promises into dollar and cent commitments, the Republican leader will propose a 28 percent cut in State Department funding. The Pentagon will be the major winner with a nearly 10 percent boost -- shoveling more cash toward a defense budget already greater than that of the next seven nations combined. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images
Donald Trump’s budget proposal would slash NIH funds.

Just last week, Mike Huckabee appeared on “Fox & Friends” to bestow a measure of praise on proposed changes to the American Health Care Act. The Trump administration has made a decent start, he opined, but health care costs will continue to soar “until we focus on curing and preventing disease.”

Although this page has never exactly been aligned with the former Arkansas governor and erstwhile GOP presidential candidate, we hope Congress is listening to him now. Lawmakers need a stark reminder that advances in medicine and cures for human disease often come only after decades of painstaking scientific research — much of it funded by government grants. That’s why the $5.8 billion cut proposed for the National Institutes of Health on Thursday is as short-sighted as it is devastating for the nation’s researchers, doctors, and patients.

The cuts also threaten to choke the creativity of young scientists, who need early funding to nurture bold but untested ideas. One local example: Feng Zhang, a scientist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, received a 5-year NIH Pioneer Award in 2012. That grant supported some of his later work on CRISPR-cas9, a genetic editing technique expected to revolutionize the quest for new therapeutics.

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Governor Charlie Baker sounded an urgent alarm Thursday during his radio interview on WGBH, calling the NIH a “key driver to all sorts of discovery” that fuels academic and industrial research in Massachusetts. Boston averages about $1.7 billion a year in NIH funding, which helps sustain teaching hospitals like Massachusetts General and Boston Children’s Hospital. And benefits from work done by scientists at the lab bench often accrue over time, seeding future economic ecosystems. In February, US patent officials ruled that patents on CRISPR belong to the Broad, MIT, and Harvard, a decision that could boost the fortunes of local companies that won licenses, including Editas Medicine in Cambridge. Although it’s hard to calculate exactly how much NIH grant money has gone into CRISPR, experts believe it’s tens of millions of dollars across scores of institutions nationwide.

If Trump won’t heed Huckabee, perhaps he’ll listen to Rebecca Schroeder of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Her 9-year-old son, Brady, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. Because of the NIH-funded Human Genome Project, her son takes a miracle drug tailored to his genetic blueprint. “These drugs can extend life by decades, and many others are counting on them. Leaving something on the table would be catastrophic,” she said. Trump’s budget amounts to a dangerous shell game that will shift costs to anyone relying on 21st century medicine — and that’s all of us — unless Congress has the courage to intervene.