Profiles of Progress: Members of Congress Fighting for Cures

Released: 2010

Representative Mike Honda

On a busy afternoon at the Longworth House Office Building, Representative Mike Honda sat down between votes to talk about an issue near to his heart: Biomedical research.

“Health and research has always been something of interest to me. I majored in biological sciences. My father wanted me to be a doctor. I fought that, because it was my father telling me to do it. So this is probably a gift back to my Dad, making sure that we are supporting the area of medical research and medical science,” Rep. Honda said.

Honda marveled about how far science has come since his days as a science teacher.

“Today we’ve gotten to the point where physical and biological sciences are coming together at the nano-scale. And that, to me, is probably one of the most exciting things that could happen,” he said. “I want to help foster this collaboration, which is why I reintroduced the Elevating Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Act in Congress this summer, to improve STEM education coordination and coherence among Federal and state governments and to advance STEM education across the nation.“

In order to take further advantage of our nation’s transformative moment in science, Honda believes we need to invest in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “ [Science today] moves us into an arena that is going to be opening up all kinds of items,” he said. “In order to do that, you need to have research. You need to have a place where all of that research can be coordinated, or guided, or initiated from. NIH is one of those agencies that can do that.”

As Rep. Honda sees it, not only will investment aid in the continued success of research projects currently underway, but it will ensure that the next generation of biomedical researchers is ready at the helm.

“It’s a real exciting time for our young people to really start to open up their own imaginations. But it’s not going to happen by accident. It has to be conscious and purposeful,” said Rep. Honda.

One particular area of science that Rep. Honda feels needs to be studied further is Hepatitis B, a highly contagious virus that infects the liver. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Hepatitis B affects as many as two million Americans, half of whom are Asian Americans1.

While visiting patients in a Hepatitis C program, Honda discovered, “that hepatitis has a whole bunch of alphabets to it,” including Hepatitis A and B. He learned of the disproportionate number of Asian Americans affected by Hepatitis B, the disease that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls “one of the most serious but frequently neglected racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S.” 2

Rep. Honda hopes that funding Hepatitis B research programs will lead to reduced health disparities. “The whole issue of diversity plays into it because we come with our own background and our own interest and our own stories,” he said. “And we — in my mind – we convert that into policy. And so the policy becomes more refined, more on point, more focused, and if you will, more elegant.”

Highlighting that these diseases affect policymakers on both sides of the aisle, Honda said, “Viruses and bacteria, they don’t care what party you belong to. And they’re going to take advantage of whatever medium they find themselves in.”

He therefore stressed that policymakers must make strong, continuous investments in biomedical research, not just to help with the specific issues of medical disparities and Hepatitis B, but to help with the overall health and well-being of the nation and world.

“We have a responsibility to the entire country to utilize our resources and our genius for the betterment of mankind. And we have a global responsibility too. And so that allows doctors to be able to continue their Hippocratic oath — do no harm.”

Luckily, Rep. Honda is up for the task.