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Getting behind medical research

Last Sunday, we were headed to downtown St. Petersburg at the same time as a few dozen walkers were completing their Komen 3-Day for the Cure breast cancer event.

Women of varying ages, shapes and sizes passed, nearing the end of their 60-mile trek to raise funds and awareness. We saw knee braces, sweaty faces, broad smiles — and sheer grit.

Suddenly the Women's Half Marathon I'm doing this month, a benefit for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, seemed like not so much effort.

"Aren't they amazing?'' I said to my husband.

"Sure are,'' he replied. "But I wonder — has walking ever cured a disease?''

I did not like this question. You might not either if you've walked to cure as many diseases as I have.

But the guy — who has done some charity walking himself — had a point.

Now, you could say that walking is an excellent "cure'' for conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, depression, arthritis and obesity.

And I don't even know how you quantify the value of the camaraderie and awareness walking events create.

My husband was talking about raising research dollars in the vast sums needed for top-tier medical research. And though walk-related fees and fundraising do yield significant sums for research and education, they're not the entire answer.

A few days before the Komen event, I talked with Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research!America, about a survey her group recently did in Florida to gauge opinion on science and related issues. She told me that although Florida is No. 4 in population, we're 17th in research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Who's getting our money?

At least in theory, research grants go to scientists and institutions that make the most convincing case for them. Woolley pointed to North Carolina as a state that became a research powerhouse when leaders beefed up support for universities and other scientific infrastructure. Florida, she suggested, could do the same.

Sunday, as the Komen was wrapping up, I saw more statistics in this newspaper: On average, the state contributes $5,960 per student to the cost of their education at the University of South Florida; a few hundred more for those at the University of Florida.

North Carolina (population rank, 10; NIH rank, 7) kicks in more than $11,000 per student at Chapel Hill. Tuition is higher there, too.

Maybe you think Florida has it right. The Research!America study did find that Floridians aren't as enthusiastic about paying taxes for science as they are about science itself.

But if you're not so impressed with the direction Florida is taking in regard to science education and medical research, you might consider dropping a line to your elected officials.

Walking for worthy causes has much to recommend it. But it's only one way to support the researchers working to unlock the mysteries of disease.


To find out more about the Florida poll, and how much different states attract in federal funds, go to

Getting behind medical research

11/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 4, 2011 4:30am]
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