Wyatt Decker

To ask the question today, “Will there ever be a cure for cancer?” you may get the answer: “No, there will be cures for cancer.”

What seemed so distant not long ago is fast becoming reality for different types of cancer. We have seen amazing advancements and momentum that is both encouraging to the medical community and provides hope for millions of patients.

But that momentum is at risk.

In Washington, D.C., there has been talk of cuts to research funding through the National Institutes of Health. This funding is the lifeblood of medical research and a catalyst for philanthropy and other research backing nationwide.

We are relieved to see that, under a recent bipartisan spending deal in Congress, NIH will get a short-term funding boost. However, there is still concern about the longer term for 2018 and beyond, when the administration is considering deep cuts.

We know the challenges of balancing innovation with costs. Make no mistake: Research isn’t an expense but an investment in our nation’s economy and health of our fellow citizens.

Funding research means funding hope

Understanding the biological processes that contribute to human disease and proposing new treatments, as well as clinical trials and validation all take time and are necessary, and sometimes expensive, steps along the path to cures.

That’s why we at Mayo Clinic, as a not-for-profit organization, heavily invest in medical research. NIH funding has remained flat over the past decade while Mayo Clinic has doubled its investment in research. Knowing that cancer rates continue to rise, our physicians and scientists are focused on fighting cancer – exploring the emerging fields of immunotherapy, regenerative medicine, individualized medicine, data aggregation and artificial intelligence. We do all we can to advance innovation.

We have many examples of this right here in Arizona:

  • Multiple myeloma

Thanks to a dedicated research team at Mayo Clinic and beyond over the past 10 years, survival rates for this disease of plasma cells have doubled. At Mayo Clinic in Arizona, we have a team dedicated to continuing this trend by studying innovative treatments to prompt the body’s immune system to combat the disease and another that infuses a virus in cancer cells to kill them.

  • Breast cancer blood screening

Mayo Clinic is participating in a large-scale clinical trial aimed at developing a simple blood test to screen for early stages of breast cancer, when there is a greater chance for cure.

  • Teaming with industry

A recent example is Cologuard, a noninvasive, stool-based DNA screening test for colorectal cancer – the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Our team and an industry collaborator were able to rapidly translate a lab discovery to a simple test that is more accurate than previous screenings. In many situations, this test is a suitable alternative colonoscopy.

Patient-centered thinking

Even with our significant efforts, generous benefactor support, and collaborations with industry, we, like many other academic medical centers, rely on NIH funding for sustainability. NIH funding is a key economic driver in the health care industry. Who knew that today we’d be looking for scant particles of DNA in blood samples to detect cancer? Or developing individual therapies for patients based on their genomes? We know medical research will offer solutions and a brighter future, but we need to sustain funding to get there.

Cuts in funding would mean setbacks on discovery and cures, and diminished hope for patients and families.

Mayo Clinic believes in putting the patient at the center of this discussion. Our hope is that health care in the U.S. includes strong, long-term and sustainable federal support for research.

Wyatt Decker, M.D., vice president, Mayo Clinic, and CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona Contact him at mcveigh.jim@mayo.edu