More than a week into the federal government’s partial shutdown, with the political sides appearing as intractable as ever, leaders of a professional group warned that their stalemate will hurt patients, researchers, and especially the nation’s research effort long after an agreement is reached.

Stefano Bertuzzi, Ph.D., executive director of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), and ASCB President Don W. Cleveland, Ph.D., of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego, led a group of society leaders and supporters in decrying the shutdown at a National Press Club appearance.

“As America keeps hitting the brakes on scientific research, we are, in effect, accelerating the damage done to our continued leadership in global bioscience, in health outcomes and in the economic power that we have always derived from basic research,” Dr. Bertuzzi said.

“Today I am wondering what U.S. science will look like in a week, a month, five years from now,” Dr. Bertuzzi said, adding: “Americans will pay dearly for these slowdowns, sequestrations, and shutdowns in finding cures and on maintaining economic competitiveness.”

Dr. Cleveland said that the NIH shutdown has put him and other researchers who rely on NIH funding into an untenable position: “We have some reserves and we are running on those reserves but (long term) we have nothing to keep the team together but public funding and philanthropic organizations.”

Dr. Cleveland said his laboratory last month identified a method for silencing a gene in neurodegenerative disease, and lined up a research partner to launch a clinical trial. “We wrote the grant application and now nothing is happening,” he lamented. “We need public support.”

The ASCB and Nobel laureate warnings of damage to U.S. biomedicine appeared to fall on deaf ears, with President Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday restating their positions rather than launching discussions, as another showdown looms next week when the nation reaches its borrowing limit or “debt ceiling.”

Obama refuses to negotiate with Republican congressional leaders absent a temporary spending bill that funds all government operations and doesn’t cut funding for his healthcare reform measure. The GOP leaders seek to slow down the Affordable Care Act and approve piecemeal funding for federal agencies that enjoy bipartisan support, including NIH.

“The shutdown shows where the real deficit is: in the failure of elected officials to take action to fund American priorities,” Mary Woolley, president and CEO of the research funding advocacy group Research!America, said in a statement. “The deficit seems to be a deficit of common sense.” 

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