By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Over the past few decades, Dr. Shobha Ghosh has broken new ground in her search for a way to boost the body’s ability to flush out cholesterol from cells. But she says her quest to cure heart disease, along with the work of so many other biomedical researchers, is being overshadowed by the constant pursuit of money.
It is part of the message she and nearly 400 other American Heart Association volunteers and staff from nearly all 50 states will take to federal lawmakers this Tuesday during You’re The Cure Lobby Day. Advocates will spend Monday in a daylong training sessions and then converge on congressional offices to urge legislators to make heart disease and stroke research a national priority by increasing the budget of the National Institutes of Health. AHA Volunteers also will lobby to keep strong nutrition standards in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act on Wednesday.
Ghosh, who knew she wanted to be a scientist at the age of 11 when she lost her mother and older sister to heart disease, said she and other researchers spend nearly half of each year writing and applying for grants, losing crucial time and progress toward scientific discovery.
She said her lab at Virginia Commonwealth University has seen a more than 5 percent reduction in funding over the years, causing her to lose two bright postdoctoral trainees because of the insecurity associated with jobs in academic science.
“Science has encountered short-term setbacks before, but the challenges in life sciences have now extended over a decade and the impact may not be quickly reversed,” she said.
Recently, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich echoed the same themes in an opinion piece published a few weeks ago in The New York Times. “It’s irresponsible and shortsighted, not prudent, to let financing for basic research dwindle,” he wrote, calling for lawmakers to double the NIH budget.
Currently, the NIH invests just 4 percent of its budget on heart research and 1 percent on stroke research. Advocates are asking Congress to increase the NIH funding by 10 percent to $33 billion to restore a 20 percent loss in purchasing power it has experienced over the past decade because of medical research inflation. In addition, they are asking for support of the NIH Innovation Fund in the House 21st Century Cures legislation.
As the U.S. population ages, the AHA says nearly 44 percent of Americans are likely to face some form of cardiovascular disease by 2030. The cost of the disease is expected to increase from $579 billion in 2012 to $1.208 trillion by 2030.
Ghosh’s work has had key breakthroughs in the last several years, but she expects it will take at least another decade to clinical trials and approvals. Her work in 2007 showed an enzyme able to significantly flush out stored cholesterol (that enters the cells as LDL, or bad cholesterol), from cells known to cause artery-clogging plaque. She was able to reduce the amount of plaque in mice by 50 percent by introducing the critical human gene – in mice. In 2014, another discovery showed introducing the enzyme into the liver alone also helps remove cholesterol from the body and can reduce heart disease.
“I don’t’ want to imagine the scenario that I can’t continue this work,” Ghosh said. “No one is doing this, and if my lab shuts down, all the work goes with it.”