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Cancer Researcher Says Budget Cuts Could Drive Scientists Out of New Jersey

3-20-13

Some scientists are worried that Gov. Chris Christie’s budget proposal could put cancer research in jeopardy in New Jersey. For the second year in a row, he has proposed removing $1 million from the budget that would go to the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. Last year, the legislature reinstated the money for research and Dr. Alison Gammie, senior lecturer in molecular biology at Princeton University and a cancer researcher, hopes its members will do the same this year. Without research funding, she told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that scientists would be slowed and could lose colleagues to other states with more research dollars.

Gammie said she is hopeful members of the legislature will again reinstate the $1 million for cancer research, saying there has been bipartisan support for the action. She said she doesn’t know why Christie has taken out the research funding because she hasn’t spoken to anyone in his office about it.

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The $1 million would go directly into research, according to Gammie. “The grants are peer reviewed by scientists volunteering their time to vet the grants. And the grants range from undergraduates, pre-doctoral, post-doctoral and principle investigators for seed grants to develop innovative research that they can then leverage more funds from federal sources,” she explained.

Some legislators have looked at research proposals and have difficulty understanding them. Gammie said it’s very important for scientists to take the time to explain their research.

“Most grants now have a portion where the research needs to be explained in more straightforward terms using fewer technical terms so that the broader population is able to understand what the research is about,” Gammie said. “It is a real skill to be able to convey the importance of the research without losing any of its impact or significance from a scientific perspective.”

Gammie has been personally impacted by the removal of cancer research grant money. She was given a seed grant in 2010 and received the first half of the funding. When Christie cut $1 million from the budget last year, she was denied the second half. After the legislature reinstated the cut funds, Gammie received the second half of the funding, but she said there was a break in continuity of research.

“I think that’s really important to emphasize, that if you have a break in continuity, you lose personnel, you lose skilled workers who understand the project and you break momentum,” Gammie said. “And on some level you run the risk of a competitor in another state perhaps moving ahead of you as your research is slowed down.”

Better funding in other states could cause some scientists to take their research elsewhere. Gammie said other states have made significant commitments to cancer research — particularly North Carolina and Texas.

“It is a concern that scientists will go where they are able to do their research and if there is more statewide funding for cancer research, we do run the risk of either losing talented people or not being able to recruit them to the state to become long-term members of our state,” Gammie said.