Budget cuts to NIH could have major impact on UConn funding

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on the Federal budget in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Feb. 22. Trump's plan to slash the budget for the NIH could impact UConn faculty and students. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on the Federal budget in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Feb. 22. Trump's plan to slash the budget for the NIH could impact UConn faculty and students. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Faculty and students at the University of Connecticut could be impacted by President Donald J. Trump’s plan to slash the budget for the National Institute of Health, which contributed nearly $100,000,000 to the university last year.

“The National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation represent UConn’s largest sources of federal grant funds, so the kinds of major cuts currently envisioned in those programs would negatively impact UConn’s work in a wide range of critical research fields,” UConn Spokeswoman, Stephanie Reitz, said.

Trump’s plan would reduce the NIH’s budget by 18 percent for next year, a $1.2 billion cut.

The plan would also cut approximately $3.6 billion from the NSF’s annual budget.

The NIH contributed $30,590,241 to UConn Storrs last year and an additional $51,117,894 to UConn Health.

“UConn plans to watch the budget proceedings closely and remain in touch with our Congressional delegation, which recognizes that federal grants are critical to our research mission in medicine, science, and many other fields,” Reitz said.  

Dinesh Babu Uthaya Kumar, a PhD candidate in biomedical science, participated in an exclusive NIH-funded program with two other graduate students last summer.

“The NIH’s Clinical and Translation Research Course for biomedical graduate students is a two-week exclusive program designed to steer students to explicitly think beyond basic science,” Kumar said, “In simpler terms, how to move ones’ research from bench to bedside.”

Kumar said his view of why he wanted to be a scientist changed as a result of his participation in the program as he had the opportunity to hear a patient, whose life had been saved by stem cell research, speak.  

Kumar said the course made him realize how his research could not only solve scientific mysteries, but help people.

“Not every second-year biomedical graduate student gets a chance to see how their basic laboratory research could be translated to save lives,” Kumar said.

Kumar was enamored by the work the NIH made possible since a young age.

“I first came to know about NIH (in 2003) when the human genome project was completed,” Kumar said, “I was in middle school then, and could not even comprehend how bigger and greater this achievement was.”

Kumar is currently working under Dr. Alex Williams to study the role of long non-coding RNAs in pathogens of lung fibrosis.

While this work is not directly funded by the NIH, cuts to the organization could still impact future projects.

“A budget cut of this magnitude could potentially prevent him (Williams), and other new investigators to get any grant from NIH,” Kumar said.

The NIH conducts research in their labs and also parcels out billions each year in grants to researchers across the country.

“(The) NIH, as an organization, is fundamentally so important,” Kumar said “They are nurturing young, talented minds to become physicians, scientists and physicians-scientists.”

Members of Congress have resisted these cuts believing the cuts could be extremely detrimental to scientists and the patients who benefit from their research.

“Now imagine an 18 percent budget cut on this over-worked and under-paid magnanimous organization,” Kumar said, “The repercussions of this precarious NIH budget cut could be a multilayer downfall for the USA as a country to lead and inspire a future generation of scientists.”

Arthur Bienenstock, a Stanford professor and expert on science policy told the New York Times the cuts would likely have a more severe effect on public universities.

“The net impact would be a significant decline in biomedical research and its centralization in a small number of universities,” Bienenstock said, “Research would shift away from public universities and less well-endowed private universities and toward well-endowed private universities like Harvard and Stanford.”

Kumar said he hopes people realize that the work the NIH funds is an issue that affects people of all political affiliations.

“People fail to understand that we now live in a society where science is impregnated in every walk of our lives, and that science is not a bipartisan issue, especially biomedical science where human lives are at stake,” Kumar said.

Kumar said he hopes other UConn students will use their influence to prevent the proposed cuts from being implemented in the final budget.

“I sincerely urge my fellow huskies to stand up and speak to their appropriate representatives at town hall meetings and elsewhere,” Kumar said, “Science matters, scientists matter.”


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.