A sputnik moment for stem cells?

Last night President Obama gave a state of the union speech. He seemed appropriately somber given the many issues facing the country. One issue of particular importance is the federal budget and the deficit. Will Obama strongly get behind biomedical research and request budget increases for 2011 for NIH and NSF? If not, then the Republican controlled Congress is even more likely to reduce the NIH budget to 2008 levels or at best keep it at 2010 levels. Either case is bad news for stem cell research as biomedical research inflation would take also take a bite out of the budget for NIH. What we need is at least a moderate increase. Funding for NIH is an investment that pays off for America.

We are now months into the 2011 fiscal year and our government still has no budget. It is running on a continuing resolution that expires in just over a month. While these kind of continuing resolutions are not usual, they are also not without consequences. For example, for NIH and the research that it supports, continuing resolutions leave many things on hold.

So what did Obama say in his speech that might have relevance to biomedical research, the NIH budget, and stem cell research in particular?

Not a whole lot was said, but it seemed at least mildly encouraging.

The one and only time he specifically mentioned biomedical research in his speech he said (according to the NYT’s transcript that can be found here):

“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

All things considered, I would read these as hopeful tea leaves.  Biomedical research was the first kind that he mentioned in this excerpt.

I expect that when Obama releases his budget in a couple weeks, it will include an increase for NIH. It’s anybody’s guess what the Congress will do, but strong backing from Obama is a crucial starting point.