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Indiana Researchers Warily Eye Prospective NIH Funding Cuts

Liju Yang, a postdoctoral research associate in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, uses a microscope to see bacterial cells placed into a microchip containing an antibody that captures the bacteria. The technology, developed in the lab of professor Rashid Bashir, offers promise for creating devices called "biochips" that can also detect proteins indicative of diseases such as cancer. Such devices can provide a means to perform early detection of cancer from body fluids. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

Last year Indiana schools and businesses received more than $225 million for scientific and medical studies from the National Institutes of Health, or NIH. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, released Thursday, cuts close to one-fifth of NIH funding, and this could significantly reduce the amount of research done at the state’s universities.

In 2016, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis received more than $130 million in NIH grants. And Indiana University and Purdue University received $31 million and $37 million, respectively.

NIH money funded, for example, Purdue’s groundbreaking mapping of the physical structure of the Zika virus and research at IPUI into behavioral oncology.

Some of that money also went to the Purdue Center for Cancer Research to fund drug development and research into less invasive therapies, among many other projects. Director Timothy Ratliff says approximately 70 percent of the center’s costs are from the NIH and its daughter agency, the National Cancer Institute.

He’s watching the budget cuts warily.

“They’ll really severely restrict how rapidly we can advance our cancer research efforts, drug development, etcetera,” says Ratliff, adding that when money isn’t secure, it not only affects the amount of science done, it also determines the number of scientists. Future researchers may decide they don’t want to deal with funding hassles.

“They see their mentors, their faculty advisors, they see them working all the time writing grants, because we have to really work at it to maintain the funding for our laboratories,” he says, “ and they’re turned off.”

Still, Ratliff is holding out hope funding will emerge in the revision process.

“Very few presidents’ budgets are passed, so I have a lot of hope there will be some changes, especially in a bipartisan medical research arena,” he says.

The Purdue Office for the Vice President of Research and Partnerships declined to comment on Trump’s proposed budget. The office is waiting to see what happens as it moves through Congress.

Trump’s budget slashed several agencies’ budget to fund a bump for defense funding and money for veteran’s affairs.

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