Volume 91, Issue 66

Tuesday, January 27, 1998



Medical research cut

By Dave Yasvinski
Gazette Staff

Medical researchers at Western recently received a bill of bad health as they were informed the federal government has plans to take a knife to their current funding levels.

Canada's Medical Research Council's $82 million budget has been cut to $47.5 over the next five years, thereby slicing Western's piece of the pie to only $1.9 million. Robert McMurtry, dean of medicine and dentistry at Western, said there is no defense for the federal government's budget slashing.

McMurtry, who is also a member of the MRC, was disappointed by the extent to which the council's budget for medical research was cut and emphasized the impact this will have on the university and the community. "Those projects which are currently funded have been cut by 26 per cent," he said.

Bill Bridger, VP-research at Western, said the cuts could have very serious consequences. In the short term, 60 per cent of existing programs are being dismantled and lost to Canada's system, while in the long term Canada won't be able to recruit students back to the country because the funds won't be there to set up labs.

"The problem we face is that we are living and competing in a global marketplace and Canada needs to invest in research and science and technology," Bridger said.

London Mayor Dianne Haskett said the cutbacks have negative consequences for the whole community. "I am very, very concerned about the impact this will have on research projects and jobs in London. We are pleased when researchers come here, cuts in funding pulls out the rug," she said.

Haskett said London's Members of Parliament will be advocating on the researchers' behalf. "With a strong voice from the medical community, as well as the local government, hopefully [the cuts] will be reconsidered," she added.

Eleven of the 51 applications Western submitted for funding of research to the MRC this year were approved, putting Western slightly above the 20 per cent national success rate for applicants. Another round of applications for funds takes place in March, but McMurtry said if changes aren't made soon the situation will not improve. "If the government doesn't do something about the budget it will be another horror show," McMurtry said.

However, he added he is optimistic there will be an increase in funding over the next few years. "If we make these investments now, they will pay-off not only in treating diseases but down the line as well."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998