What does medical research mean to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to the nation?
At a State House hearing Monday to discuss federal medical education cuts in Medicare, the answers were many.
Witnesses from MIT and hospitals, economists and members of Congress spoke of an irreplaceable research infrastructure in our hospitals and research institutions; of the training of physicians; of medical products, biotechnology companies, and of jobs. They spoke of partnerships and collaborations between clinical physicians and scientists which have produced spectacular medical advances in treatment of diseases and burns and even the replacement of human organs.
Their conclusions were that if the Congressionally proposed Massachusetts cuts of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion (over a seven-year period) to graduate medical education materialize as predicted, it will risk gutting the essence of our area's medical research capacity.
Senator Lois G. Pines, who held the hearing as chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Federal Financial Assistance, said the proposed medical education cuts in Medicare posed a serious threat to teaching hospitals, medical research and the Massachusetts economy.
"Long considered the nation's medical mecca, Massachusetts is now critically threatened by proposed cuts in Medicare's graduate medical education payments," said Senator Pines, who referred to the Boston medical infrastructure as a "national treasure."
Economist James Howell, author of a study entitled The Economic Impact of Medicare and Medicaid Cuts on Massachusetts, has estimated that the proposed federal cuts could result in the direct loss of 71,000 Massachusetts health care jobs.
The cutting-edge technology produced by the area's medical research means jobs and revenues, currently employing more than 15,000 people and responsible for pumping $2.4 billion into the state's economy.
The MIT witnesses were Professor Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel laureate in medicine and head of the Department of Biology; Professor Michael Cima, director of the Ceramics Processing Research Laboratory; and Dr. Ioannis V. Yannas, professor of polymer science.
Professor Sharp noted that collaboration between institutions like MIT and the Massachusetts General Hospital provide clinical advancements that fuel biotechnology companies, providing critical resources for technology transfer.
The MIT contingent was teamed with MGH's Dr. John F. Burke, who collaborated with Professor Yannas to develop artificial skin, and Dr. Joseph Vacanti, director of organ transplantation at Children's Hospital. Dr. Vacanti, along with MIT's Professor Robert S. Langer and members of his laboratory, has been working to develop methods of building new livers, heart valves and cartilage.
In his testimony before the committee, Dr. Vacanti noted a special symbiosis of research and medical resources that begins with "a bedside problem which then becomes the subject of a laboratory investigation and ultimately produces a bedside solution. This process is usual for the Boston area, but quite unusual for the nation and the world."
Dr. Burke added that the cooperation between disciplines is enormously important, noting that it would all be threatened by the loss of the medical infrastructure that currently allows teaching hospitals to function in teaching and research. He noted that if we are cut now, "In 10 years we will lose people and the potential of collaborations that will be impossible to get back."
Hearing witnesses were joined by US Senator John F. Kerry and Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy II, Barney Frank and Richard E. Neal, all of whom pledged to work together with the medical-research community to oppose the proposed cuts and to maintain the integrity of the unique resources of the Boston area medical and research community.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 15, 1995.