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OHSU employees send over 600 letters to Oregon legislators about proposed budget cuts to NIH

Over 600 letters have been gathered in an OHSU letter writing campaign, opposing the proposed 18 percent cuts to the National Institutes of Health budget. The letters are being directed to Oregon's congressional delegation. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

In advance of the “March for Science” April 22, OHSU employees launched a letter-writing campaign directed to Oregon’s congressional delegation about a proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health budget.

Cristina Tognon, Ph.D., scientific director for the Brian Druker lab at OHSU organized  the campaign. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

The campaign was initiated by Cristina Tognon, Ph.D., scientific director for the Brian Druker lab. Read more about Tognon’s inspiration for the campaign in the Q&A below.

What sparked your idea for this letter-writing campaign?

Some of the women in my neighborhood have been meeting monthly to discuss taking action in our community. In the last meeting, people felt overwhelmed and weren’t sure where to put their focus. One of the ideas that came up was choosing one thing you feel passionate about and taking action around that. I feel passionate about science. I can get behind science funding 100 percent because I know how much we do and what we’re working toward.

As a lab director, what went through your mind when you heard about the proposed NIH funding cuts?

A lot of our work over the last year and a half has been focused on applying for NIH funding. People may not realize it, but it takes a lot of time and effort to put together those proposals, including years of work to get preliminary data. I also thought about how it would affect current and future grants. In general, the chance of getting a grant is approximately 15 percent. So if you get one and the budget is cut, it's even more difficult to accomplish our work.

How did the news affect you from an emotional perspective?

I worry that what we’ve built won’t be sustained. How are we going to maintain our research if we can’t get funding? How are we going to support the people that are doing a great job working for us? We've had some great momentum over the last four or five years, and I want to keep that going. I feel like we’re on the cusp — the fruit is getting ripe. I want to make sure we have the ability to keep our highly skilled people here to complete the work we’ve begun.

How do you think these cuts could affect the future of science? 

I worry about younger people just starting their science careers. I worry about younger people who are working to finish up their Ph.D.s or who are in their post-doc periods. If they see a precipitous decrease in science funding, will they be forced to choose an alternate career?

For which of your OHSU projects have you received NIH funding?

Dr. Druker has been supported by the NIH for his CML (chronic myeloid leukemia) work for years. He continues to hold a Research Project Grant (ROI) NIH grant for a very strong CML project. We’ve also recently received several other grants focused on AML.

OHSU employee Matt Storm signs a letter, April 20, 2017. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

What do you hope this campaign will accomplish?

I hope that people feel they have a voice. It’s important to feel like you can say something and do something. I hope that there are enough letters to make an impact and have OHSU's voice heard. And who knows, maybe we’ll inspire other people to start letter-writing campaigns! A lot of legislators support science. They’ve been saying we need this level of funding in order to conduct world-class research and to be leaders in our respective fields. It’s reassuring to know there are influential people out there supporting science.

What does your neighborhood community group think about your campaign?

I am going to bring it back to them at the next meeting. This is great example of why it's important to put your ideas out there because you never know what will happen. You may be pleasantly surprised. I hope this serves as inspiration to the group -- to identify something they’re passionate about and go for it.  Once you have shared an idea, there are people out there who are willing to help you.

What has the response been from the OHSU community?

When I told colleagues about the letter-writing campaign, they were all on board. Everybody feels strongly about this issue. It’s something that should be nonpartisan here. OHSU is a research institution, and people are behind the research. It’s a big part of our identity; we realize how important it is to have good science.

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