Kathleen’s Desk

Government Shutdown Is Impacting Children with Cancer

by Kathleen Ruddy, CEO, St. Baldrick's Foundation
October 3, 2013 0 comments

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The government shutdown is impacting children with cancer. House and Senate members continue to debate while children with cancer, their families, and  the researchers wait. Photo: Rachel Kemble Photography

Caregivers and researchers report children with cancer are feeling the impact of the United States federal government shutdown that began on October 1.

The government shutdown may delay the opening of new clinical research studies funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), including studies being developed by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a cooperative network of more than 200 research institutions.

A short-term government shutdown is not expected to impact ongoing clinical trials, except potentially trials conducted at the NIH’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Children already enrolled on clinical trials will continue to receive treatment, although the shutdown will slow research progress, explained Dr. Crystal Mackall, NCI’s Director of Pediatric Oncology. Employees supporting NCI Intramural Research Program’s Pediatric Oncology Branch are designated “essential” and therefore are to work in full force to continue to care for patients enrolled on our clinical trials. The shutdown will, however, slow the pace of research for childhood cancer as many bench researchers in the Pediatric Oncology Branch have been placed on furlough.

The government shutdown is a serious situation, especially if it continues.

Government setbacks, such as the shutdown, hurt kids with cancer more than adults. Childhood cancer’s piece of the federal funding pie is already a small 4 percent slice of NCI’s total cancer budget. In addition, fewer charitable funds are raised for kids cancer and no pharmaceutical industry funding is directed their way, compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars designated for adult oncology.

Dr. Peter Adamson, Chair of the COG, agrees the government shutdown is a serious situation, especially if it continues. He warns that the impact of sequestration, which, if allowed to continue into next year, provides a more serious threat that could take years, if not longer, to recover from.

“Sequester cuts could have a profound and long-term impact on research, including the potential of our losing a generation of young and talented scientists, who are committed to finding better cures for children with cancer, to other fields. Finding a solution to sequestration is critical to improving the outcome for the children we care for,” he said.

Patients do not have time for debate. They are fighting for their lives.

No one can predict how long the government shutdown will last. House and Senate members continue to debate while children with cancer, their families, and  the researchers wait.

Dr. Bob Arceci, chair of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee, summed up the situation, “The closure of the government has profound effects on many key aspects of the lives of our citizens, and, often, the most vulnerable. Research, including clinical trials for children and adults with devastating diseases like cancer, stops or stalls. Patients do not have time for debate. They are fighting for their lives. Stalling research slows progress which in turns shuts the door on their lives.”

Read a parent’s perspective on the government shutdown.


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