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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
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Seeking funding, backers show off surgery simulation center

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— In the fight for medical research dollars, it helps to have friends in high places.

So U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, invited her colleague, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, to tour the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation on Wednesday. Pallone, ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees health research spending, said he was “tremendously impressed” with the USF Health center.

“There’s always competition,” Pallone said. “What the congresswoman is pointing out is how great a facility this is, and obviously, we’ll take that back to Washington.”

USF Health opened CAMLS in 2012 to provide doctors and health professionals advanced training and certification in high-tech procedures and patient care. Pallone toured the $30 million, three-story center with Castor, USF President Judy Genshaft, and CAMLS chief executive Deborah Sutherland.

The event came as lawmakers are being scrutinized for spending on fighting human disease, prolonging life, and developing drugs and procedures. A recent Forbes.com headline declared, “Congress is Killing Medical Research.”

During the last decade, federal funding of the National Institutes of Health — which provides the bulk of federal research money to universities and laboratories — has declined, and the situation was exacerbated by the budget battle of 2012-13 that left across-the-board cuts to federal programs.

Castor said she and Pallone “disagree wholeheartedly” with cuts to medical research. She introduced legislation to beef up the NIH budget, now at about $31 billion, but failed.

Pallone is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“One of the things I learned today is that you have a lot of doctors and health professionals that come up here from Latin America because this is such a state-of-the-art facility,” said Pallone. “If we can’t compete with other countries, they’re not going to come to the United States, or to Tampa. That’s why we have to reverse these cuts to NIH.”

With the retirements of U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and John Dingell, Pallone is in line to become the senior Democrat on Energy and Commerce — the committee that oversees funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and NIH.

More than $130 million in NIH funding has come to the Tampa Bay area over the last five years.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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