Thousands of Americans are feeling the effects of the conflicts on Capitol Hill, but for some, the government shutdown could kill them-- literally. Patients-- many with little hope left and looking to enroll in federally funded clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health -- are out of luck. Dozens of new drug trials begin each week at the NIH hospital, but now, with no new funds, no new studies can begin.
Here in Vermont, the prognosis is more promising.
"On the local scene we're in a little better shape because we can actually continue to run the protocols that we've started that we have resources for - that have been allocated from the NIH over the course of the last year -- which is usually the cycle of renewal. So, we can continue to enroll patients in our studies locally and we can certainly continue to treat patients, particularly cancer patients," said Dr. Ira Bernstein, UVM College of Medicine senior associate dean for research and chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.
The UVM College of Medicine receives about $70 million in research grants each year and 70 percent of that comes from the NIH, $50 million worth of federal funding. It's used for laboratory research and direct patient care in clinical trials. Those studies cross a broad spectrum of disciplines, from heart and lung disease to neurology and cancer.
The work that's already funded will continue, but for future research, it's a different story.
"The limitation as this moves forward is that-- and I've already talked to colleagues whose grants will not be reviewed-- so there are study sections I know that are scheduled for this week that are not happening and those are the settings in which new grants are reviewed and prioritized for funding. There are no new funding notices going out, which means that no new trials can start. So, all prospective trials, all of the things that we're trying to get started will really come to a halt," Bernstein said.
But again, for patients enrolled in clinical trials already underway, Bernstein says Vermont patients should rest assured that those therapies will continue for some time. He's just hoping the government shutdown ends soon.
It's been a historically bad year for medical research funding. The NIH already lost $1.5 billion to the sequester and now stands to lose another $600 million when the government reopens.
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