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Scenes from Sequestration Nation

These days are bleak ones for the US researchers who are funded largely by federal dollars, and the cloud of uncertainty named sequestration threatens to descend that community into a "dark age for science," Huffington Post's Sam Stein writes.

Scientists like the University of Virginia's Andidya Dutta, who is studying the role of microRNAs in the formation of muscular tissues, are now beginning to feel the bite from the sequestration, which whacked around $1.7 billion out of the National Institutes of Health's 2013 budget.

Dutta says he and around 40 of his colleagues are "struggling to keep their labs afloat," Stein notes, in an article that sketches out the troubles of several investigators who are feeling the bite of dwindling funds.

Dutta received $1.3 million five years ago from NIH to fund his proposal, which scored in the 2nd percentile, but when he recently sought renewed funding for the same program it scored in the 18th percentile, and he was denied funding.

"I am living off of fumes," he tells Huffington Post.

Huffington Post has put a call out to its readers to write in with stories about how the sequestration has been hurting research, as part of its project to document the impact of the budget cuts.

Stein has found that the length of grants has been shortened, many have had their dollar amounts trimmed back, and some have been cut or not renewed. He says that some universities have been siphoning funds from projects that have funding to keep others on life support until a grant comes along to get them running again.

He says "a feeling of despair" has set in on research communities, and that officials at academic and medical institutions are convinced that flat budgets and the sequestration "have ushered in the dark ages of science in America."

There are other sources besides government, of course, but philanthropic funding can be uneven, and may focus on areas that are chosen by the individuals giving the funding, and the private sector cannot be expected to support long-term, basic research projects that do not pay dividends in the near term, Stein says.

Can the sequestration be turned off, Stein asks. While it may be difficult, he says that champions of NIH funding in Congress, foremost among them is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), have provided some reason for hope that biomedical research funding could somehow be spared from a long-term sequestration.

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