I have returned from the Department of Defense (DOD) Peer Review Process in Reston. I am happy to report that my airport experience was uneventful. Actually, I was able to get on an earlier flight and returned to New York City three hours prior to my original schedule.
I now have had an opportunity to catch up on some desperately needed sleep and to begin the process of reflecting on the experience. The time I spent at the DOD review was very well invested, extraordinarily enjoyable, tiring, informative and I believe good for the prostate cancer community.
One of the most significant insights I had was that we have a massive scientific crisis brewing on the near horizon. This crisis will have a devastating impact on the survival opportunities of prostate cancer survivors, as well as survivors of all cancers. The crisis is real and is about to pounce on us.
The reduction of funds for research which we have been experiencing over the last six years has not only greatly reduced the number of research projects that are being conducted, but more importantly, has begun to have a direct impact on the training of personnel to perform the research. Not only do we currently have less research projects being funded (therefore less research being conducted) but also we are beginning to lose post doctorial research personnel and their training labs to other industries and for the first time in history to foreign labs.
Last year at the DOD peer reviews there were 1,200 research applications reviewed by the prostate cancer committees. This year we only reviewed 800 applications. This is a 1/3 reduction of applications in just one year! At this rate of decline cancer research will grind to a halt!
When I discussed this with the scientist reviewers, they all expressed concern about the implication of this on the future of research. Without exception, they conveyed their concern about what they characterized as the loss of a complete generation of researchers. New post docs are unable to find funding (actually many current researchers are also having a similar problem) and so are leaving the field to go into alternative careers. Once they leave, they are lost forever and so are their potential contributions.
This loss will have major implications for us for many years in the future. According to the American Cancer Society 27,000 of us will die in 2007 from prostate cancer. A ten-year reduction of research could translate into the death of 270,000 of us!
Our only response is to wake up and lobby both congress and the president immediately. Out tax dollars need to be diverted from killing people to the process of saving lives and reducing suffering.
Joel T. Nowak MA, MSW