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Guest Column: Federal budget impasse threatens vital Parkinson's research

Guest Column: Federal budget impasse threatens vital Parkinson's research

During hard economic times families make important, and often difficult budgetary decisions. Congress needs to do the same thing.

Before the end of the year, Congress must agree on ways to bring the federal budget in line with the limits it has set. If not, sequestration goes into effect - automatic, across-the-board cuts that could result in an 8 percent reduction in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget.

These cuts would be particularly devastating to me because I, along with more than 50,000 Arizonans, have Parkinson's disease.

If this happens, universities and institutions in Arizona that do Parkinson's disease and other biomedical research stand to lose $14 million, and will have to lay off more than 350 people.

This would deliver an additional blow to our already-struggling local economy, as much of this research takes place right here in Tucson.

Sequestration won't just hit Arizona hard; it will have ripple effects throughout the scientific community, across the country, and around the globe.

The NIH is the largest funder of biomedical research in the world. Discoveries happen based on years and years of continuous work - and that "aha" moment cannot be scheduled.

You can't just hold back or temporarily stop working on research projects for a year, or more, and then expect to start up on them again and pick up where you left off.

Science simply doesn't work that way.

Cutting funding like this means researchers working toward Parkinson's progress markers, better medicines or a cure for Parkinson's and other diseases might have to assemble a new team and start back at square one if and when funding is increased.

In addition, NIH funding is multiplied in value because it also is a catalyst that encourages private-sector investments in research projects.

If NIH funding on a Parkinson's research project gets cut, that project is at risk for losing outside investment, as well. The private sector can't shoulder the burden of disease research funding on its own.

Forcing across-the-board cuts means Congress won't have to do what every American household has done in these difficult economic times - make the tough decisions about what can and cannot be cut from the budget.

Across-the-board cuts will cause long-lasting damage in the scientific community, and in some cases could "reset the clock" on work toward better treatments and a cure for Parkinson's and other diseases and disorders.

The NIH - the funding of which has not kept pace with inflation for nearly a decade - needs at least $32 billion in fiscal year 2013 to continue research toward much-needed treatments for people like me and those who have other chronic diseases.

As Congress works on 2013 funding and the threat of sequestration looms, I call on Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Reps. Ron Barber and Raúl Grijalva to do everything they can to support funding biomedical research at NIH.

Instead of putting Arizona, and our nation, at risk, let's give them the resources they need to be leaders.

Michael Greenbaum is the assistant state director of the Parkinson's Action Network, Tucson. Email him at

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