Trump’s proposed budget cuts throw the future of research into question

President Donald Trump proposed budget cuts for many government programs and increases in defense spending on Mar. 16. Researchers previously reliant on government funding must learn to appeal to philanthropists and the private sector to survive.

Katherine Zhang

President Donald Trump proposed budget cuts for many government programs and increases in defense spending on Mar. 16. Researchers previously reliant on government funding must learn to appeal to philanthropists and the private sector to survive.

by Katherine Zhang, Assistant STEM Editor

President Donald Trump released a preliminary 2018 budget proposal on Mar. 16 detailing his planned cuts and increases in spending for the next year. Trump proposed cuts for hundreds of programs and has decided to eliminate 62 completely, while increasing military spending. Among these cuts is an 18% decrease in funding for the National Institution of Health (NIH), which would prevent the institution from sponsoring research at universities and other programs and thus create setbacks for new researchers looking for funding as well as for advances in research in general.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that Trump’s budget is, at the moment, only a proposal. All of the cuts that he has proposed to make must go through Congress first, and representatives from both parties have already voiced discontent at the amount of money that Trump is cutting from the NIH’s budget. However, chances are that there will be some changes involved in the NIH’s budget. And even if the NIH’s budget remains the same for the next fiscal year, Trump’s willingness to abandon research efforts is still concerning.

Trump’s proposed cuts to the NIH show a general lack of regard for the importance of research in helping us understand and remedy everything from ongoing health issues such as high cholesterol to epidemics of diseases like the Zika virus. The NIH also has an extensive grant system that funds research projects across the country. In 2016, it funded over 35,000 projects and spent 55% of its budget on doing so. It also currently controls over 80% of funding for research in universities, and many student researchers would not have the money to pursue advanced research otherwise.

While the NIH would still have a substantial portion of its budget to dedicate to research, each NIH grant is a multi-year contract made between the NIH and the researchers. This means that at the beginning of each year, most of the money that has been set aside for grants must first be given to The $5.8 billion cut means that the institution will most likely be unable to fund any new grants during the next fiscal year.

This decrease in funding would also eliminate the NIH’s Fogarty International Center, which funds 400 research and training programs that involve over 100 American universities. The Fogarty International Center also supports global programs that are dedicated to combatting disease and understanding recent epidemics such as Ebola and Zika virus. These programs would be eliminated completely under Trump’s budget, thus halting America’s involvement in global research as well as research within its own universities.

Publicly funded research been crucial in proposing and developing new therapies and cures and provides students with opportunities to involve themselves in science that could contribute to groundbreaking discoveries about disease in the future. For instance, the drug industry often depends on discoveries made by NIH-funded research and has used. One example is Praluent, a drug recently created by pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and Regeneron. The concept behind the drug was discovered through an NIH-funded research project at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where students discovered an enzyme crucial to flushing excess cholesterol out of the body.

With Trump considering cuts to programs that allow this type of research to occur in universities and programs around the world, this could produce a major setback in scientific discoveries. While the budget may only give up funding for these grants for a year, we can never know when scientific breakthroughs will lead us to the technology and the cures of the future.

For instance, many of the processes and technologies used to treat diseases stemmed research and experimentation that was seemingly inconsequential at the time but was later discovered to have great impacts. The drugs used during chemotherapy have their origins in a simple reaction between two compounds and was first deemed fit to be used only as mustard gas. Likewise, the now widely used MRI was created when biomedical scientists harnessed the relationship between magnetic fields and atomic nuclei – a field that physicists explored out of sheer curiosity.

None of these applications could have been predicted when the scientists in these fields first began their research. But what we can learn from these instances is that any scientific research can lead to valuable and vital discoveries that will impact our futures. By giving out grants to aspiring researchers and university programs, the NIH is promoting research that may change our lives for the better, just as innovations like chemotherapy and the MRI have.

Now that Trump has made his stance on science research clear, researchers should look to private investors for funding. Already, science philanthropy is becoming increasingly popular as wealthy donors invest in all fields of science from eradicating disease to space exploration. Though the government continues to fund the majority of American scientific research, private investments in research do have the potential to replace the role of the government in tackling large research projects: for instance, the global eradication of polio was funded by philanthropists.

However, depending heavily on private investors to continue the type of scientific research that is being pursued now is risky. While government-sponsored research guaranteed the advancement of a wide range of scientific fields, support for privatized research would be based solely on the philanthropists’ interests. Science that is less attractive or trendy but still integral to understanding the world could be left behind if private investors do not feel the need to provide it with funding.

In a world of privatized science, research programs and university students seeking funding will need to learn how to sell their research and prove that it is worth pursuing. They will need to change their methods of persuasion, as their audience will no longer be the panels of experts at the NIH – instead, they will be selling an idea to philanthropists who may not have a strong scientific background.

The bottom line is that Trump has already expressed his lack of interest in funding scientific research, and researchers as well as the general public need to respond quickly to any changes that may occur. Research has proven to be an extremely valuable field that is integral to developing new technologies, making breakthroughs in new fields, and combatting human suffering, and we all need to be aware that the world has much to lose by pushing research to the side. At the same time, researchers and research programs must realize that they no longer have any guarantee from the government and must learn to sell their ideas to private investors. Though the future of American research is uncertain, with the help of private investors and heightened awareness, scientific research will be able to overcome cuts to government programs.