Survivors give passionate plea for research

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, survivors of chronic and deadly diseases, including former U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., gave inspired pleas in support of biomedical research.  Along with members of the scientific community, Tauzin and his fellow survivors thanked President Obama for research money from the stimulus package and asked the president to make the growth of biomedical research a national priority.

The event, which took place on National Biomedical Research Day, highlighted the importance of research through the stories of survivors.

“I had to leave Congress to fight for my life,” said Tauzin.  Over five years ago, Tauzin was diagnosed with aggressive abdominal cancer.  Even after enduring major surgery, Tauzin’s doctors told him he would die.

“Is there hope?” Tauzin asked his doctors.

After telling him that “new stuff comes out all the time,” his doctors were able to treat his cancer using Avastin, a drug based on research that identified how new blood vessels develop and carry nutrients to growing tumors.

Thanks to this treatment based on cutting edge research, Tauzin has been cancer free for over five years.

Because of medical researchers, “there is hope today,” Tauzin said.

Other survivors and their parents agreed.

“Research brought us a vibrant child,” said Shonay Barnett-Jones with her 5-year-old daughter at her side.  At 6 months old, Olivia was diagnosed with a deadly genetic weakening of her heart.

“Twenty years ago, Olivia would have died,” said Barnett-Jones.  Thanks to a heart transplant and medical research, Olivia has survived, her mother said.

While thanking the president for the $10 billion in stimulus money for biomedical research, survivors and researchers asked him to fulfill his campaign promise to make research a central pillar of economic growth.

“Medical research is a wide lane on the road to recovery,” said Dr. Edward Miller, dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine.  “It’s the best investment we can make.”

Miller said that the $150 million in stimulus money that Hopkins has received has “kept labs open” and afforded the hiring of new researchers.

A 33-year recipient of research funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Judith Bond, distinguished biochemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, said that, with the stimulus money she has received, she has been able to support graduate students and researchers.

Bond also noted that part of the goal of stimulus funding was to foster new ideas.

Agreeing, Miller said that future investment would be important to “sustain the momentum from the recovery act.”

“Ten billion dollars is not even a drop in the bucket,” Tauzin said.  He compared the United States’ research investment with the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and asked for significant and sustained increases in research funding.

“In America, we believe in research,” Tauzin said.  Referring to America’s research dominance, Tauzin said, “We, in America, are crazy if we lose it.”

While some emphasized the economic impacts, survivors reminded the audience about what ultimately drives biomedical research.  Pointing to his fellow survivors, Tauzin said, “So that they can live a normal life — that is what hope is all about.”

For more information, check out researchmeanshope.org

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