Rethinking Healthcare

Why this American medical researcher believes he's better off working in Asia

Why this American medical researcher believes he's better off working in Asia

Posting in Government

How the U.S. will lose out to Asia in medical research.

Jeffrey Steinberg was born in the U.S., he received his Ph.D. in the U.S., and even completed his post-doctoral training there. But when it came to to enter the workplace in his field - bioimaging research - Steinberg chose to move to Singapore, where government leaders prioritize medical research in their annual budget.

Steinberg and his co-authors report today in The New England Journal of Medicine that the U.S. is quickly losing out to Asian countries when it comes to health sciences.

The researchers compared health research funding and policies in the U.S. to those in China, India, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Each of these Asian countries plans to increase support for medical research as part of their financial strategy.

“In researching this article, we were surprised at how well-developed other countries’ plans are for including medical research and scientific research as part of long-term goals,” says Steinberg's co-author  Gordon Sun M.D. of the University of Michigan in a press release. “All of them have a fairly well-defined plan, which is part of their overall efforts to become economic powers. Whereas in the U.S., NIH funding is considered as just another part of the annual budget, and can be cut at any time.”

He adds that the number of clinical trials of new medical ideas in the U.S. is decreasing, while that number in the Asian countries continues to rise. The Asian countries are increasing their medical research budgets, while U.S. researchers hope for the American research budget to at best keep pace with inflation. The press release states:

Sun and his co-authors warn that this trend could lead to long-term economic damage for the United States and the loss of its stature as a global leader in the field. “Powerful incentives that can retain an elite biomedical research workforce are necessary to strengthen the U.S. health care system and economy,” they write.

In light of the recent U.S. presidential campaigns' focus on American exceptionalism, it will be interesting to see if medical research enters the spotlight as a field in which the U.S. can make up for lost ground.

Photo: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure