The opportunity to make a difference drives the work of many people: to save someone’s life, to find a cure for cancer or to give someone an extra few years of life thanks to a treatment you discovered.
For the students who presented their research at the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence in Manhattan over the weekend, this goal is not out of reach, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said as he spoke to the students during his surprise appearance Saturday.
“I think most of us, that’s what we’re looking for in life — the opportunity to make a difference,” Moran said. “And to say at the end of your career you’ve helped save someone’s life, you made life better, you reduced the cost of health care for people in the United States and around the world, that you found a cure or treatment for a disease that is affecting so many people. Many of (these students) will have the opportunities in life to do just that.”
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Over 100 students from institutions in Kansas and Oklahoma participated in the 15th annual K-INBRE Symposium on Jan. 14 and 15, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health’s IDeA program.
The IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence supports and fosters research in states that receive less money from the National Institutes of Health than other states, Doug Wright, K-INBRE principal investigator, said.
“The opportunities that are out there for students interested in science create circumstances in which great things can happen in Kansas and in our country,” Moran said. “In fact, some of (them) in this room will change the world. So from somebody who tries to make a difference in an environment which makes it hard to make a difference, I’m honored to see this.”
A dream to make a difference
With the closeness in dates to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Moran said he did not mean in any way to diminish from King’s dream, but he too has a dream.
“(Dr. King) had a wonderful dream for his country and for his people and we’re going to do everything we can to achieve that dream,” Moran said. “But I also have a dream, much narrower perhaps and certainly not as all-encompassing as Dr. King, but I have a dream that Kansas becomes a place in which science and mathematics and research are honored. That there are careers for people who love that arena to pursue in our state. I want to do everything I can to make sure that dream becomes a reality for Kansas.”
Moran, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said this dream will be possible because of the funding that now assists states like Kansas for medical research.
“It is such a wonderful concept,” April Mason, K-State provost and senior vice president, said. “It’s a tribute to all (of these student researchers).”
K-INBRE has brought in $59.1 million since it began in 2001, Mason said.
“We are an agricultural state, we’re an oil and gas state, we’re an airplane manufacturing state, we’re a service sector state,” Moran said. “But what a great day it would be, a great time in our state’s history, in which we become a place with science and mathematics and engineering and research, where those students can pursue those careers and find satisfaction with employment, income and careers in our home state.”
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Moran said this started with receiving the National Cancer Institute’s designation at the University of Kansas and the building of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan.
“What I think can happen as a result of getting NCI designation and with NBAF being built here, is something more than just a few more jobs in those two locations,” Moran said. “We’re going to work every way to develop the ability to get others to locate here because of the presence of those facilities.”
“This is the beginning, not the end,” Moran continued. “The success of getting the NCI designation, the success of getting NBAF here, that’s the start, not the end. This is the opportunity for (these students) and (their) careers across our state.”
Research, health care and politics
As Moran referenced how the Senate is once again debating health care and how it is a debate that never ends, he said the students presenting their research can find the cures that make health care affordable for all, without being political.
“One of the things we can do to make health care more affordable and available to people in this country and ultimately around the world is to find that cure for cancer, to find that treatment that delays the onset of Alzheimer’s, to end diabetes, the list is long,” Moran said. “It also has a very practical consequence. More people can afford health care based upon science and fewer people will need expensive health care based upon the success of science.”
Eric Aube, senior in biochemistry, presented his research on the topic, “Mechanism of translation initiation inaccuracy caused by eIF5 overexpression, which is associated with breast and lung cancer prognosis.”
“It was really cool to hear from Sen. Moran and to hear that he supports this kind of research,” Aube said. “One thing that really stood out to me was that his reasoning in supporting research was in order to cut back on having to need more health care programs for people with diabetes or cancer. It’s a very controversial topic, but I thought it was interesting to hear.”
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It goes back to why the work the research students are doing is so important and noble, Moran said.
“The full circle says to me that what you do matters, and what more can any of us want than the chance to make a difference in a very challenging world,” Moran continued. “In today’s political world, there’s a lot of emotion and rhetoric, but if we can remind ourselves that science in many ways can provide us answers, things will work much better.”