PHILADELPHIA — On Feb. 24, 15 early-career cancer scientists from across the United States converged on Capitol Hill to meet with 36 congressional members and their staffs as part of the inaugural American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Early-career Hill Day. The 15 individuals who were selected to participate are part of a group of more than 14,000 graduate students, medical students and residents, and clinical and postdoctoral fellows that comprise the associate membership of the AACR.
Early-career scientists have been disproportionately affected by the lack of growth in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget from 2004 to 2015. In fact, the chance of successfully receiving a research grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is less than 15 percent, and scientists today, on average, do not receive their first independent research grant until they are in their early 40s, as compared to their mid-to-late 30s in the 1990s. This is quite unfortunate, especially since early-career investigators are the innovators of the future, bringing bring fresh ideas and technologies to existing biomedical research problems, and pioneering new areas of investigation. Therefore, entry of early-career investigators into the ranks of independent, NIH-funded researchers is essential to the health of this country's biomedical research enterprise.
"The AACR is very concerned about the future of the cancer research pipeline, and is most specifically focused on helping the early-career cancer scientist through numerous programs and initiatives, such as our recent launch of the AACR NextGen Grants for Transformative Cancer Research, a new funding initiative to stimulate highly innovative research from young investigators," said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. "The AACR Early-career Hill Day provided an opportunity for associate members to explain to policy makers how early-career scientists have been have been adversely affected by the funding environment over the past decade. We think their messages are powerful and underscore the importance of robust, sustained, and predictable budget increases for the NIH and NCI."
The $2 billion increase for the NIH that was included in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 omnibus bill demonstrated strong support for medical research funding. The 15 associate members who participated in the meetings on Capitol Hill looked to capitalize and build on that momentum by thanking members of Congress for their support and by stressing that continued, predictable growth in the NIH budget for FY 2017 and beyond is what is required to fully reverse the effects of more than a decade of stagnant funding.
"Many of my colleagues are choosing non-research careers because of inadequate and unpredictable funding for biomedical research," said Shane R. Stecklein, MD, PhD, Hill Day participant, AMC member, and resident, Department of Radiation Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "These are the next generation of cancer researchers, and if we lose them, we lose progress in the fight against cancer. It was an honor to represent AACR's early-career investigators on Capitol Hill to share this message with our legislators."