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Government Shutdown Furloughs Medical Research as National Institutes of Health Is Running on Skeleton Crew; Patients Turned Away

By Staff Writer | October 04, 2013 02:11 PM EDT

A lot of Americans say they are sick of how Congress is handling the health care debate, but furloughed workers at the National Institutes of Health are blocked from studying treatments.The Government shutdown is bad for your health.

The federal government shutdown has put a halt to NIH drug trials as medical researchers are being forced to stall preclinical research.

Normally, about 200 patients a week enroll at The National Institutes of Health for ongoing trials of experimental therapies. Right now about 73% of NIH staff have been blocked from entering the facility, which is being operated by a skeleton crew. The NIH is unable to begin new studies. NIH researchers are turning patients away.

The shutdown does not affect patients who are already enrolled in medical studies. The Washington Post reports that while those patients are still receiving treatment and skeleton crews are still able to check on existing preclinical work and take evidence on research animals, the government shutdown is trampling ongoing research. A furloughed NIH director told The Washington Post that the remaining staff is reduced to making sure "the cells in the Petri dishes don't die."

Most of the furloughs affect the Institutes' nonclinical operations. The NIH has been able to keep about 2,500 of their staff at work to maintain patient care at the NIH's Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md.

According to a Health and Human Services memo, the center will run at roughly 90% capacity in the first weeks of the shutdown. The NIH isn't kicking sick people out of the hospital. There are about 200 patients enrolled at the NIH in a normal week. The agency says they are usually treating about 30 children at any given time, 10 of them with cancer.

NIH spokesman John Burklow told the Washington Post, "Everyone feels absolutely awful. It's antithetical to our mission and why we're all here. ... If you have a child who needs help, even if you're told, 'Well, we can't help you today,' it just creates anxiety and frustration, I'm sure."

The government shutdown also halted action on grant applications and awards and on the White House-supported research program, the BRAIN Initiative. NIH has pledged $40 million to that program.

House Republicans introduced a bill to restore NIH's funding and allow it to get back to trial enrollment on Wednesday. Democrats are adamant about reopening the entire government. About 800,000 federal workers have been sent home without pay since the shutdown began Tuesday.

Tagged :  world news, Government Shutdown, Medical Research, NIH

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