By Mary Woolley
New technology such as CRISPR-Cas9, a genuine scientific breakthrough, is raising hope for patients with cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia and other major health threats. The gene editing tool, used in precision medicine, allows changes to be introduced into the DNA of any living cell— potentially enabling repair of disease causing mutations, neutralization of disease carrying insects and much more. This technology, developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, is an example of the realization of the promise of innovative research funded by our federal science agencies.
In recent testimony before a key subcommittee in the Senate, Dr. Keith Yamamoto, executive vice dean of the school of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, described the importance of federally funded research in the “development of new technologies that produce progress in leaps rather than steps.” Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are also making the case that it is time for our nation to put more muscle behind medical innovation. During that same hearing, Subcommittee Chair Ted Cruz, R-Texas, noted that the U.S. is “paying billions and trillions on the back end” to deal with the consequences of disease rather than paying on the front end to develop cures. He said the nation is expected to spend $226 billion on treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementias in 2015 — nearly four times the amount spent last year alone.