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Second Opinion

Proto readers share their thoughts on antibiotic resistance and research funding.

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UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE

The first true antibiotic, penicillin, was extracted by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain at Oxford University and reported in The Lancet in 1940. What is almost uniformly unappreciated, however, is the fact that penicillin was first utilized clinically in 1930 by Cecil George Paine (a pathologist) and Albert Boswell Nutt (an ophthalmologist) at the Sheffield (England) Royal Infirmary in four cases of neonatal conjunctivitis. Two infections were due to gonococci and two to staphylococci, one of which was a treatment failure presumably due to penicillin resistance, thus anticipating molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg’s hypothesis that some bacteria are genetically resistant to penicillin (or other antibiotics) and had possessed that trait for aeons. Proto’s article “Unexpected Cave Dwellers” (Fall 2012), which described antibiotic resistance in bacteria sequestered for millions of years and obviously unexposed to drugs, is the perfect complement to this historical observation.

John D. Bullock // Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Emeritus Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, Dayton

TO FUND OR NOT TO FUND?

Lawrence Summers makes an excellent argument for the necessity of continued funding for the National Institutes of Health (“The Case for Research,” Fall 2012). NIH-funded advances have led to a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, helped identify genetic markers for mental illness, and improved asthma treatments. The drop in overall mortality rates from cancer over the past 20 years shows that research discoveries have saved more than three-quarters of a million lives. In addition, NIH-funded research had a dramatic impact on the fiscal health of the country, supporting more than 400,000 jobs in fiscal year 2011.

Medical research is one of the best investments this country can make in our future. A healthy economy, global competitiveness and innovations across all sectors of society are made possible by healthy Americans. Yet sequestration could mean as much as an 8.2% cut to NIH funding. Even more troubling is that this cut comes at the end of a decade that has already seen the NIH budget reduced by nearly 20% after inflation. If nothing is done to stop it, the effects on the nation’s fight against disease and disability will be catastrophic—stalling new treatments and cures, stifling innovation and jeopardizing jobs. America needs to invest more in research, not less.

Ann Bonham // Chief Scientific Officer, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, D.C.

To rebut Lawrence Summers’s argument for continuing federal funding for health research, I’d like to note that venture capitalists in America have a long track record of making the same risky investments that are often made by the federal government in health research. Unlike the federal government, private investors are much more prudent in making expenditures. A market-based system incentivizes researchers to make the case why their research would be successful as well as to use their capital efficiently. A system like that would be a win for mankind, as well as for American taxpayers.

Barney Keller // Communications Director, The Club for Growth, Washington, D.C.

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