Archive for February, 2011

The impact of charity in Science and Medicine

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

I was always told that the power of a country is measured by several factors, but especially by its scientific and technological accomplishments. For years, the United States was the world’s science and technology leader. Graduate students like me wanted to come here to study, and often to then work. This was the “status quo” for a professional that wanted to get higher positions in their fields – come to the United States to do a specialization, MBA and even a Ph.D. However, this has been slipping as industrializing countries enhance their own R&D (Research and Development) capabilities and universities, and as terrorism fears make it harder to come here. In addition, the economic crisis that started in 2007-2008 in the United States has severely affected scientific funding and the advancement of technology and medicine, among other fields. The federal government squeezed R&D funding and this is affecting several fields that the United States has always dominated. One example is the National Space Agency (NASA) and the cuts in the budget that have impacted in the retirement of the Space Shuttle with no substitute for it. On the other hand, countries like China and India, had increased budgets in science and technology and have been threatening the United States. Even Brazil, as discussed in an article in Science Magazine (Regalado A. Brazilian Science: Riding a Gusher. Science. Vol. 330 no. 6009 pp. 1306-1312, 2010) is in the right direction, despite some social problems. All of these turnarounds in the United States economy has brought up something that American people do better than anybody – donation of huge sums of money to charity from foundations. Examples of Foundations with impact to the American society are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that have been distributing grants to emerging countries for vaccine development for cholera and other diseases that are epidemic in third world countries, The Lance Armstrong Foundation that funds cancer research, The Michael J. Fox Foundation that donates money for Parkinson’s disease research, among others. We need to recognize that Americans do this better than anybody. They can intervene in political problems, get into conflicts that are nonsense such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but they are authentic patriots. So now let me tell a little about my history as a researcher here in the United States and how charity has changed my scientific life. Four years ago, when I was in Chicago doing research in cancers, a family that had lost their daughter for an aggressive brain tumor (she died when she was 3 years old – see video here) came to my boss since they had started a Foundation under their daughter’s name. The Maeve McNicholas Memorial Foundation, this was the name of the Foundation since their daughter’s name was Maeve, had just started and wanted to help researchers working studying brain tumors. Their child was treated in the institution I am working now so they came to us to talk about our research and visit the laboratory. Since this day, they had donated to our research almost half a million dollars (approximately 500,000.00 dollars) during 4 years. They gave me the honor to be the Maeve McNicholas Memorial Foundation Scholar and every year they promote an event to raise money for our research. The event is in a Park under Maeve’s name in the neighborhood that she lived in. This year they have donated 110,000.00 dollars to our research (see picture below).More importantly, this Foundation was initiated by a medium class family (not a rich family) and it was able to grow and spread the word not just in the Chicago area but in all the Illinois state. If it were not for their donations, we would be in financial trouble. These days are though times for researchers in the United States and charity plays a big role in maintaining several groups up and running. I believe that government agencies are still big players, but donation of money for research has grown since the economic crisis hit science and technology here. This is an example of something that americans do better than any country in the world, even in though times. Even with all the hate for americans all over the world because of the wars and their international political policy, americans are the most patriotic nation in the world. We should (and by we I mean the rest of the world) learn with these positive things Americans do. This is just one of the examples of the impact of charity in Science and Medicine in America. If you or your family have a story like this please post a comment here in this blog!