SEQUESTRATION TAKES A BITE OUT OF PROMISING ORAL HEALTH RESEARCH

FEATURING: Dr. Peter Polverini, Dean Emeritus, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Dr. Frank Scannapieco, Professor and Chair, University at Buffalo – SUNY, Buffalo, New York

Dr. Philip Stashenko, President and CEO, The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

OPPORTUNITIES LOST

The health of the mouth and surrounding craniofacial (skull and face) structures is central to a person’s overall health and well-being.i Treating oral health conditions is costly, with $110.9 billion in expenditures on dental services in 2012.ii Oral health disparities exist for many racial and ethnic groups.iii

Future advances in health care depend on a sustained investment in basic research to identify the fundamental causes and mechanisms of disease, accelerate technological development and discovery, and ensure a robust pipeline of creative and skillful biomedical researchers. Relying primarily on funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), dental, oral and craniofacial researchers are working today to create less invasive, cost effective and more efficient ways to improve oral health. Unfortunately, the recent federal austerity measures stymie innovation and further exacerbate the barriers to young scientists pursuing research careers.

According to Dr. Peter Polverini, Dean Emeritus at the University of Michigan and immediate past president of the American Association for Dental Research, sequestration had an immediate and noticeable impact.

At my university, when the sequester hit, it was a game changer. Established faculty had difficulty getting grants renewed, new faculty hit a funding wall, and people employed at research laboratories were losing their jobs.

In actual dollars, NIDCR lost $23 million in funding in fiscal year 2013 and only $10 million of that was restored in fiscal year 2014.iv However, when adjusted for inflation, the NIDCR budget is 22 percent, or $75 million, less than it was in 2002, resulting in the lowest number of research grants awarded in 13 years.v

The University at Buffalo - SUNY is home to one of the country’s longest running Ph.D. programs in oral biology. Graduates of this program go on to become successful researchers, teachers, and administrators in dental schools.vi Recruitment of students to this program was long supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “T-32” institutional training grant, which historically supported ten to twelve students. Last year, this training grant was cut by two thirds and the current funding only supports four students. According to Dr. Frank Scannapieco, Professor and Chair at the University at Buffalo – SUNY:

This is a troubling trend. What people don’t understand is a scientific career comes together over many years. It needs to be uninterrupted. Often, a post doc student is supported by a NIH grant and the ultimate hope is they become faculty and compete for grants. If a young person is unable to receive support early on their career, it is very difficult to regain that momentum because a career in research is built up over time.

FALLING BEHIND

At The Forsyth Institute—the only independent research institute in the United States specializing in oral healthvii—the federal austerity measures not only affected the recruitment of new researchers, but the support network on which those scientists rely. During the past year, Forsyth laid off approximately 20 percent of its administrative staff. The loss of staff has slowed the progress of the Institute’s work linking oral disease to other systemic diseases, and its ability to exploit its unique knowledge of the oral microbiome for the development of new probiotics and other interventions to improve health.

The layoffs, coupled with the intense international investment and competition for scientists are concerning to Dr. Philip Stashenko, president and CEO of Forsyth:

We are undergoing a period of intense international competition and other nations are investing heavily in science. The United States is losing its competitive advantage and in another five years we will have lost it.

Dr. Scannapieco continues, “Politicians don’t understand. Cutting the budget is not a game. Researchers are very thoughtful about how they are doing their work and planning years ahead. Additionally, the great expansion of the NIH budget has stopped. Now the infrastructure is built and there is no money to maintain it.”


AUTHOR
American Association for Dental Research

SOURCES
i “Oral Health,” HealthyPeople.Gov, accessed February 18, 2014, http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=32#one

ii “Nations Health Expenditures 2012 Highlights,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, accessed February 2014, http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/downloads/highlights.pdf

iii “Division of Oral Health,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accessed, accessed February 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/oralhealthdisparities/

iv “FY2015 Institute/Center Submissions,” National Institutes of Health Office of Budget, accessed March 2014 http://officeofbudget.od.nih.gov/pdfs/FY15/NIDCR%20FY%202015%20CJ%20-%20Final.pdf

v “Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePort),” National Institutes of Health, accessed February 2014, http://report.nih.gov/NIHDatabook/Charts/Default.aspx?showm=Y&chartId=205&catId=2

vi “School of Dental Medicine Department of Oral Biology,” University at Buffalo, The State University of New York accessed February 2014, http://dental.buffalo.edu/orb/AboutOralBiology/WhyChooseUB.aspx

vii “About Forsyth,” Forsyth, accessed February 2014, http://forsyth.org/about-forsyth