U.S. Nobel laureates worry about future of basic science

Mon Oct 7, 2013 8:10pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The kind of basic science that helped Randy Schekman win the coveted Nobel medicine prize might never have been funded if he had applied today.

Schekman, along with two other U.S.-based winners of the 2013 medicine prize, Thomas Suedhof and James Rothman, slammed recent spending cuts at the National Institutes of Health, the biggest funder of scientific research in the world. The budget curbs were undermining the chances of breakthroughs and the next generation of basic research, they said.

The three scientists, who won the Nobel for research on how cells swap proteins, have all received NIH funding at some time during their careers.

Across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, which started in March, required the NIH to cut 5 percent or $1.55 billion of its 2013 budget. The cuts come on top of years of reductions in federal spending on research at the NIH.

The cuts automatically went into effect after the White House and Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to agree to a deficit reduction blueprint.

The "federal paralysis is frankly imperiling our biomedical enterprise", said Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley.

More than 80 percent of the NIH's budget goes to more than 300,000 research personnel at more than 2,500 universities and research institutions throughout the United States, according to the agency's website.

Schekman's contribution towards the Nobel started with lowly baker's yeast which he used as a simplified model to pick apart the basic genes and molecular pathways cells use to share proteins with other cells.   Continued...