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Fall 2013

From the Editor

Date: October 1, 2013

Lost Opportunities
So many scientific breakthroughs to share with you. Such limited space.

That’s the challenge I face with each issue. For every article we include—on a protein study that has blocked progression of osteoarthritis in mice (p. 11) or a new treatment for hepatitis C virus (p. 24)—there are dozens more scientific success stories at Johns Hopkins that must go untold.

In the last few weeks alone, medical researchers here have reported on a new compound that reverses Down syndrome-like learning deficits in mice, identified a molecular marker that predicts patients most likely to benefit longest from two popular cancer drugs, and concluded that saline shots may be just as effective as steroids in relieving lower back pain for some patients. And that’s just for starters.

The pace of discovery is dizzying. Which makes recent cuts in government science funding all the more sobering. Taking inflation into account, funding for the NIH is now down to 2000 levels. Under sequestration, the NIH budget has been slashed by another 10 percent for the second half of 2013. Additional cuts loom for 2014. Support for medical education has also eroded: This past July, roughly one in 10 MD-PhD training slots was lost due to federal cuts.

Scientific breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. Our hepatitis C researchers, for instance, have been on the research trail for today’s cure since the early 1990s. In broad terms, it takes 10 to 15 years for a new drug to come to market.

So, while those of us outside the medical research lab may not experience the pain of sequestration tomorrow, we’ll undoubtedly feel the impact in five or 10 years—in the form of cures unrealized and vaccines unimagined.

Under that scenario, selecting the magazine’s story list will be easier, of course, with so many fewer breakthroughs to report on. But that’s a chilling prospect, indeed.