Sam Stein argues that due to $1.7 billion in looming sequestration cuts, NIH funding is drying up for human health research projects across the country.
Stein points to the particularly compelling case of Dr. Anindya Dutta. The University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher
has identified the specific strands of microRNA, the molecule that plays a large role in gene expression, that are responsible for promoting the formation and fusion of muscular tissue. The implications for such a discovery are tantalizing. People who suffer from diseases like muscular dystrophy would have easier treatments, and the elderly would fall less often and recover faster when they did.
Due to cuts, however, Dr. Dutta says he is “living off fumes.” In the broader context, we might be headed to a “dark age of science.”
Contrasted with the state of publicly-funded research, however, is the steady stream of news out of Silicon Valley. Elon Musk has devised a plan for a solar-powered high-speed transport system. Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post. Sergey Brin funds lab-grown meat. James Cameron and others plan to mine asteroids for precious metals.
Can these expensive and ambitious projects fill the void in a culture that many worry is losing its edge on innovation?
“The kind of people who are taking on the global grand challenges are interested in thinking big,” Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the asteroid mining companyPlanetary Resources tells The Financial Times. Indeed, Diamandis believes that this trend is part of a shift in which we will see individuals and small groups tackling challenges that once were the domain of governments and large corporations.
In fact, when Diamandis launched Planetary Resources in April, 2012, he said:
“Not only can small groups of people change the world, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
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