Funding for health research is essential for many at UCSF who drive discoveries and new treatments that help people live longer, healthier lives.

The dollars cover virtually everything, including support for researchers making bold scientific breakthroughs and those developing new therapies, faculty tasked with addressing health inequity worldwide, lab equipment costs and even stipends for trainees.

That’s why UCSF, the top public recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is not sitting on the sidelines as Congress considers a deep cut to the next NIH budget.

What’s more, a potential government shutdown in October would interrupt NIH’s ability to advance discoveries. “Federal dollars are a significant part of UCSF’s research funding,” said Harold Collard, MD, MS, vice chancellor for research at UCSF. 

UCSF researchers speak to delegate in hallway of White House
An aide to U.S. Congressman Mark DeSaulnier listens as Harold Collard, MD, MS, UCSF vice chancellor for research, shares the importance of NIH funding to the groundbreaking research at UCSF.

UCSF received a record $823 million from the NIH in 2022, the highest-ever amount awarded to a public university. During the fiscal year that ended in September 2022, UCSF schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy, and the Graduate Division, received 1,510 NIH grants and contracts. Dentistry, Pharmacy and Medicine were top fund-getters among their U.S. peers, helping UCSF lead the nation in NIH funding for the 16th straight year. 

To keep that vital financial support intact, Collard, Special Advisor to the Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy Keith Yamamoto, and a group of UCSF students and postdocs joined advocates from scientific societies, patient groups, and institutions from across the U.S. at the Rally for Medical Research in Washington, D.C. this month to meet with members of Congress and their staff to push for NIH funding and raise awareness about the importance of continued investment in medical research. 

My role as a student is to really advocate for dollars to go to research and my career moving forward.”

Amrik Kang, Student, UCSF’s Medical Scientist Training Program

Fourth-year student Amrik Kang, part of UCSF’s Medical Scientist Training Program, was among them. He said the UCSF need for NIH funding is “absolutely essential.” 

“For each future step in my career, like a postdoc or fellowship, NIH dollars help fund grants for those positions. At the faculty level, your own position and often times your research is funded by the NIH.”

students sit a large table meeting with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein
UCSF students and researchers explain their research and the impact of NIH funding in meetings with Congressional offices.

The Southern California native’s passion for CAR T-cell therapy has led him to UCSF, where his work in MSTP is completely underwritten by the NIH. “We’re all very cognizant that our research and our training are supported by government dollars, but the details I don't think are understood by a lot of people,” he explained. “It’s a very complicated process and tracking the money all the way through Congress here to UCSF is something that most students don’t fully understand.” 

Joining Collard and Kang at the Rally for Medical Research was Grace Hu, a third-year bioengineering PhD student studying in a joint program between UCSF and UC Berkeley. She called the advocacy trip “invigorating,” pointing to productive meetings and a better sense of her duty as an up-and-coming scientist to promote policy that advances research.

“I’ve learned to be a storyteller and share your science with people around the world, not just your research lab but also with others along the lines of government,” Hu said. “If you take time to talk to those who hold the power, you can really make a big difference on future generations and future scientists.”

UCSF students explain impact of NIH funding on research
UCSF students and postdocs meet with the office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein as part of the Rally for Medical Research.

The group met with numerous members of Congress and their staff, including the office of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Ami Bera, MD, and others.

“What’s powerful about having the younger researchers in Washington, D.C. to meet with policymakers is that they can share their researcher stories,” Collard said. “It becomes obvious listening to them the impact NIH budget cuts would have on their careers and their science.

In May, President Biden and House Republicans agreed to a budget framework for FY2024 and FY2025 that would essentially freeze non-defense discretionary spending at current levels as part of a move to raise the debt ceiling. House Republicans are seeking to renegotiate and cut non-defense spending levels, resulting in cuts to the NIH budget. Any spending agreement will need the approval of the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, and President Biden.

 “If we don’t protect NIH funding, we won’t have the resources to support learners and bring them into the research workforce.”

Harold Collard, MD, MS, Vice Chancellor for Research at UCSF