The Price of Science
Today comes news that the FDA has approved the first human trial of human embryonic stem cells -- specifically to test the potential of the cells to treat spinal cord injuries. It's a major step forward in stem cell research, but I can't help also thinking about the dollars and cents implications of a study like this.
In his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of restoring science to "its rightful place," a call that I'm sure heartened researchers everywhere. But as we all know, our economy is currently facing enormous challenges, and the effects of the downturn have spread far beyond Wall Street -- University endowments that are key to funding scientific research are losing money, and some research projects -- including a Parkinson's project -- were even compromised by the Madoff affair. And ultimately, how much we spend on research will depend in part on other competing needs. So will returning science to "its rightful place" really mean an uptick in what we spend on research, or will other worthwhile efforts -- from education to defense -- trump what we spend on science? It's obviously too soon to know, but there's no question that in an era of competing financial demands, how we choose to spend research dollars will become even more crucial.
And that's why the role of the many Parkinson's foundations who support research is so crucial. The government-run NIH, the biggest funder of neurological disease research, can't do it all. As Dr. William Langston, the founder of the Parkinson's Institute, points out, "NIH isn't enough. You have to have money to chase new leads, to do things that NIH can't fund."
So in an era of tight financing, which projects are most deserving of financial support? It's a tough question. On the one hand, we don't want to shortchange long-range projects whose payoff may not be imminent. On the other, those of us with a chronic condition want to see research aimed at what will benefit patients the soonest. In the end, restoring science to its "rightful place" is not just about deciding what that place is, but also how much it costs.
What research do you think deserves funding even in these strapped times? Who do you think should decide which projects get funded?