WASHINGTON - To the ranks of civil rights and anti-war activists who've marched on Washington, get ready to add white-frocked scientists.
Thousands of prominent cancer and other medical researchers will rally in the nation's capital Monday to protest federal funding cuts that began several years ago and were accelerated by additional forced reductions beginning to take effect under the congressionally mandated process of sequestration.
"It's really come on top of a fairly extended period of flat funding, which has eroded the purchasing power of biomedical dollars," said Roy A. Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, who will join the demonstration. "It's almost like the final push over the edge."
Researchers say the pace of breakthroughs in treatment of cancer, HIV/AIDS and other major diseases will be slowed unless the decline is reversed.
"The cuts in federal funding as they're being put into play are unraveling one of the greatest biomedical-research enterprises in the history of the world," said Edward J. Benz Jr., head of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
The rally is being organized by the American Association for Cancer Research, which Monday morning will suspend its annual convention in Washington and ask 15,000 attendees to gather outside the Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, about a dozen blocks from both the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut are scheduled to address the rally, along with Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and survivors of cancer, AIDS, diabetes, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
William Nelson, director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he'll join the protest march to help ensure that the nation's brightest young minds don't abandon science for lack of support.
"If we lost a generation of the most talented thinkers, we are going to be paying the price for decades to come," Nelson said. "It is very hard to get funds at the beginning of your career."
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, an anti-spending advocacy group in Washington, said the funding reductions for medical research show the senselessness of the broader forced budget cuts, which Congress didn't intend to go into effect, but rather to use as a threat to force lawmakers to find more targeted cuts.
"Sequestration sucks," Ellis said. "It's across the board. It's mindless. It cuts the good and the bad equally."