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With Budget Deadline Looming, Sen. Patty Murray Tours Medical Center Funded By NIH

The Trump administration is proposing an almost 20 percent budget cut to the National Institutes of Health.

That’s according to U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who toured the immunology lab at UW Medicine in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood to put a spotlight on health research.

She emphasized the importance of the science done with funding from the National Institutes of Health and all the jobs it creates, especially in the Puget Sound region. Those jobs include not only research positions, but also “downstream” jobs, which include everything from the people who build facilities to the food service providers, lab technicians and support staff running the buildings.

Advances In Treatments For Cystic Fibrosis 

At a roundtable discussion, the Washington Democrat heard from Dr. Bonnie Ramsey, a pediatric lung specialist, who said she is deeply concerned “that we’re going to lose the next generation of scientists. And what if those scientists … don’t get funded? They will not do scientific research. And then you’re going to lose those cures for a whole generation.”  

Ramsey was emotional as she spoke. She has a 20-year-old cystic fibrosis patient whose life has been enabled by drug treatments developed by NIH-funded research.  

Kaylee Alvarado, a 20-year-old living with the lung disease, also spoke at the roundtable, explaining that the research has saved her life. She was diagnosed as a 10-month-old baby and said she was abnormally thin and coughing a lot.

“Just eating, eating, eating and not putting on any weight,” Alvarado said.

“And [my parents] noticed that when they would kiss me, my skin was really salty, which is kind of a trademark symptom of CF,” she said.  

It was not believed at the time that she would live this long.  And now she said her medicines and treatments are so costly, she’s not sure what she will do if she can’t stay on her parents’ health insurance.

“For me it means daily treatments, 3-4 times a day treatments that take up at least two hours of my day, if not more. And there’s a ton of pills,” Alvarado said.

Grants For Work On Malaria And Asthma

The immunology lab toured by the senator also includes scientists researching malaria and asthma.

Murray, known to some as the ‘mom in tennis shoes,’ met a handful of researchers working on cures. Among them was Ishmael Sebina, a man from Kenya who is working on immune response in malaria.

“Trying to understand how to improve the immune response, to malaria, basically,” he told the senator.

“Okay – so you’re going to cure it for us?” the Senator asked with a smile.  

“Absolutely - that’s the goal,” Sebina said.

Dr. Marion Pepper has led this team for the past 6 years. She emphasized the importance of its work for global human health, even though her research team is relatively small.

“They’re so driven to cure asthma and to cure malaria and as you spoke to them, you could see that [for] very, very many of them ... their training depended on NIH resources,” Pepper said.

The tour came just two weeks before a deadline to reach a budget deal to avert a federal government shutdown.  

Patty Murray is the senior Democrat on the federal appropriations committee and the ranking Democrat for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She vowed to stay in the fight for funding and lift up their voices in the halls of Congress in the other Washington.  

“That’s my job,” the senator said, emphasizing the need for bipartisan work to ensure that federal cuts are not devastating to her district.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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