By reducing investments in medical research, any short-term savings will prove to be very costly in the long run — and not just financially. That was the crux of the argument made by Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., in an opinion piece recently published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“In recent years, America has reduced its commitment to developing new treatments and cures. If we continue down this path, short-term savings will be eclipsed by increases in health care costs and significant economic setbacks. We must make every effort to ensure America remains a world leader in the life sciences.”
To illustrate his point, Dmitrovsky, the provost and an executive vice president at MD Anderson, cited the use of the iron lung to keep polio victims alive during the post-WWII epidemics. Though the enormously expensive devices allowed patients to live, they rendered them prisoners, confined to their hospital beds. But thanks to the effort and determination of researcher Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh, a vaccine for polio was discovered and the iron-lung era ended.
“The vaccine prevented infections and cost pennies to administer in comparison.”
Dmitrovsky parallels polio and the iron lung with diseases that continue to afflict people today:
“The iron lung may seem like ancient history now, but even in this day and age, patients suffering from some diseases — including certain cancers — can only be offered treatments as unsatisfactory as the iron lung. Without the chance to develop new and better therapies, the cost of these inferior treatments could exceed our ability to pay for them.
That’s why health-research funding cannot be left out of the discussion about health care reform. A sustained federal investment in science is a necessary component to find better treatments for lethal illnesses, ones that pay off in the long run. Better treatments lead to better health and, in turn, lower costs.”