Armand Keating, MD
Every three years, ASH releases a strategic plan that identifies specific areas of hematology research that are likely to have the greatest impact on the field and ultimately translate into improvements in patient care. The third update of this publication, ASH Agenda for Hematology Research: 2012-2014, was developed by the ASH Committee on Scientific Affairs with extensive input from the Society’s 17 scientific committees and the Executive Committee. The ASH Research Agenda was released in April and has generated favorable response from the media, other medical societies, and advocacy organizations.
The ASH Research Agenda has two parts. With the aim of illustrating return on investment of past research support, the first section contains stories of success in treating hematologic diseases. It describes how imaginative, rigorous basic and clinical research have resulted in improvements in care for patients with blood disorders and cancer. Through these efforts, diseases such as chronic myeloid leukemia and multiple myeloma, the diagnoses of which a decade ago would have been considered a death sentence, are now managed as chronic diseases.
Equally importantly, part one of the ASH Research Agenda chronicles how hematology research has led to extraordinary gains in the quality of patient care across the spectrum of medicine and why hematologists are viewed as true research pioneers. Reviewing these remarkable achievements reminds me of why I became a hematologist and why hematology is unique in its contibutions to basic and clinical research. Of course, we have a long way to go, and, accordingly, the second part of the ASH Research Agenda both outlines the foremost challenges confronting the field and identifies high-priority scientific goals. The latter section focuses on areas of investigation considered to be the most promising and exciting in the field, including stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and management of graft-versus-host disease, and investigation of the pathobiology and management of myelodysplastic syndrome, acute myeloid leukemia in the elderly, childhood acute leukemia, sickle cell disease, and venous thromboembolism.
Whether we contribute to these advances in the laboratory or implement them in our clinics, we are all part of this remarkable enterprise. Most of us see our careers in hematology as a privilege, not just as a job, and it is important to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to do something that we enjoy immensely. However, we are at a crossroads; biomedical research is in danger. The situation in Washington is indeed critical, with Congress considering significant budget cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We all know that without federal funding many of the goals that we have achieved would not have been possible.
There comes a point when we can no longer keep silent and hope that our science speaks for itself. Each and every one of us now needs to become a vocal advocate for hematology. Congress needs to hear that federally funded research saves lives, stimulates the economy, reduces health-care costs, and creates jobs. In terms of value, the investment in biomedical research has paid for itself many times over with improved treatment, new drugs, better diagnostics, and creation of biotechnology start-ups that bring skilled, high-paying jobs to every region of the country.
The release of the ASH Agenda for Hematology Research should serve as a clarion call to action to all of us. I urge you to pick up the phone and call your Senator or Representative, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, and take action on advocacy alerts that ASH sends out strategically to coincide with Congress’ deliberations. You can make a difference if you make an effort to educate Congress, policy-makers, and the public on what funding from NIH and other federal agencies means for continued improvement in patient care, for progress in medical and biological sciences, and individually for your lab, your program, and your students. ASH is already doing a lot on your behalf in Washington, but in advocacy, strength is in numbers. Now is the time to add your voice to the call to support biomedical research.
To learn more about ASH’s efforts to protect NIH funding and opportunities to participate in ASH advocacy activities, please visit the ASH Advocacy Center website.
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