Sequestration’s Impact on Medical Research in California

By Mina Kim

Researchers at UC-San Francisco have already been feeling the impact as automatic federal spending cuts take effect.

UCSF receives more money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any public university in the country. Under sequestration, NIH will cut spending by $1.6 billion this year, and in preparation, have trimmed grant awards by 10 to 20 percent.

At UCSF some laboratories have delayed launching parts of projects or have instituted hiring freezes, says UCSF vice chancellor for research Keith Yamamoto.

“Scientific research laboratories are in many ways more akin to small businesses than they are some big massive endeavor,” Yamamoto says. “Even a modest cut has an immediate impact.”

UCSF officials project losses of more than $28 million in NIH funds this year. Yamamoto says that puts discoveries of medical cures and the careers of scientists at stake.

“Because when a project is interrupted, it’s basically ended,” he said.

Yamamoto says the university is helping some researchers with bridge loans, by pooling reserve funds from the university, schools and departments.

Sequestration also mandates a two percent reduction in physician and hospital payments. That two percent translates to more than $3.3 million in cuts for the UCSF medical center, for the rest of this fiscal year.

Researchers in southern California are also concerned, including Tom Otis, professor and vice-chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He has a grant application before the NIH which focuses on brain research, reports KPCC:

Otis says until a few weeks ago, his five-year, $2 million research project appeared on track for full NIH funding.

But that changed when the automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, began grabbing headlines. A recent call he made to the NIH gave him little hope that his funding would survive should the cuts actually happen.

“The staff said that if the sequester went forward, the project wouldn’t be funded,” Otis said. “But if the sequester was somehow avoided, then the project would quite likely be funded.”

A recent report from United for Medical Research estimates that sequestration could cost California more than 3,000 research jobs.

Learn more:

The Sequester Explained in Plain English (KQED’s Lowdown Blog)

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