Outlook 2013: Federal budget cuts could be ‘devastating’ for Oklahoma’s medical schools, officials warn

by Silas Allen Modified: April 24, 2013 at 8:51 am •  Published: April 28, 2013

Oklahoma’s medical research programs will likely see fewer grant dollars due to federal budget cuts, and officials at the state’s two medical schools worry that change could have dire consequences.

That impact comes in a state that already faces a shortage of primary care physicians — a problem officials say could worsen as the state begins to feel the effects of the cuts.

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences depend heavily on grants handed out by a number of federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Those agencies are seeing their budgets slashed as a part of automatic spending cuts known as budget sequestration, leaving fewer grant dollars to go around.

Officials with the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have warned the cuts would lead to fewer grants available and cuts to the grants the agencies fund.

John Iandolo, OU Health Sciences Center’s vice president for research administration, said the cuts could be “devastating” for the center.

The National Institutes of Health grants make up about 90 percent of the center’s research funding, he said.

If less grant money is available, it could slow medical research not just at OU, but nationwide.

“Science is in for a rough time,” Iandolo said.

$19M shortfall is possible

It isn’t yet clear how the cuts will be implemented within each agency, but Iandolo said he expects the center could stand to lose as much as $14 million in direct costs and another $5 million in indirect costs — the fees research centers charge agencies for the use of lab space, utilities, researchers and other services.

The loss of that funding generally means certain projects will go unfunded and others will be funded at different levels. That means fewer opportunities for students to work in laboratories and less money to pay graduate student researchers.

Iandolo’s office provides small bridge grants to keep projects from being halted when funding lapses. Those grants are generally enough to allow the center to avoid layoffs, he said, but they can’t shore up the shortfall created by budget cuts.

by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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