Profiles of Progress: Members of Congress Fighting for Cures

Released: 2010

Representative Rosa DeLauro

In March, Representative Rosa DeLauro will celebrate 25 years as an ovarian cancer survivor. She will reflect on her accidental – but lifesaving – diagnosis. She will look back at how she feels her life was returned to her. And perhaps most important, she will honor the 15,000 women every year who are unable to survive the deadly disease1.

As Rep. DeLauro celebrates, she will also continue to work tirelessly to support biomedical research, including efforts to develop a reliable screening test for ovarian cancer because, as Rep. DeLauro says, “No one should be just diagnosed by luck.”

The key to conducting this research, and thousands of other research projects around the world, is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although the NIH has more than 75 state-of-the-art laboratory facilities at its headquarters in Maryland, more than 80 percent of NIH-funded research activities are conducted by scientists working in every state and around the world.2

Rep. DeLauro said, “I’ve always viewed the NIH as a jewel in the crown of our biomedical research. It’s the foremost biomedical research organization in the world. Not just the United States. We are the cutting edge of research.”

“Simply put, I view that biomedical research saved my life,” she continued.

Shortly after her successful cancer treatment, Rep. DeLauro decided to run for her first term in Congress and pledged to work on the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, which handles NIH funding.

While in Congress, Rep. DeLauro has worked with other female biomedical research champions, such as Pat Schroeder, Connie Morella, Louise Slaughter, Nancy Johnson, Marge Roukema, Nancy Pelosi and Nita Lowey, to advocate both for women to be included in clinical trials and for the development of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH.

“It’s not that long ago when women’s health was not front and center, no matter where, whether at the federal level or anywhere else. And it’s true that at NIH, the clinical trials did not include women and women of color. They extrapolated data from men to women. Well, physiologically women are different. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out,” said Rep. DeLauro.

Rep. DeLauro also advocated for doubling NIH budget from 1998-2003, but feels the effort didn’t go far enough. In order to succeed, Rep. DeLauro believes NIH needs a strong, sustained commitment to funding because research doesn’t happen overnight.

“No one’s intent had ever been that once we doubled it we would just leave it, because research takes a long time. But if you do not invest now, in 10 or 15 years you will not be the beneficiary of the new discoveries. Nor will you allow those new researchers, those young scientists, to be able to get those grants that they need in order to perform the science that will continue to be breakthrough,” she said.

These biomedical breakthroughs don’t just stop in the laboratory, but they also translate to better treatments in the form of specific medicines, high-quality equipment and sophisticated procedures.

As Rep. DeLauro said, “It’s not only transforming people’s lives, but in terms of how this country — and quite frankly the world – works to allay suffering, it’s the science-based effort which allows us to be able to translate research to drugs and procedures to save lives. They’re in the business to save lives.”

When her colleagues in Congress ask why they should fund biomedical research right now, with all of the other programs that also need funding, Rep. DeLauro’s answer is simple.

“What research is about is saving lives. Many other parts of the federal agencies or the government do all kinds of good things. We do roads. We do bridges. We do parks. We do loans and grants for education and for the environment. But this is an area where we save lives.

“There is a moral responsibility that we have to take on and that we need to do whatever we can to increase the opportunity for people to survive illnesses that they don’t bring on themselves. And every step and every dollar and every resource that we commit to the National Institutes of Health brings us closer to saving more lives.”

Rep. DeLauro’s career, and indeed her life itself, is living proof of that statement.