Senator Menendez Tours Rutgers Laboratory Following SfN Hill Day
During the recent Society for Neuroscience Capitol Hill Day, Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom invited Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to tour his laboratory at Rutgers University. Just nine days later the senator was there pointing to a live picture of a neuron and asking, “That was made from a blood cell?”
DiCicco-Bloom’s laboratory is housed in the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University, where he sees patients and researches human neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the country, so the senator has an interest in research to combat this devastating disorder. When DiCicco-Bloom met with the senator’s staff on Hill Day, all it took was an introduction and an invitation to get the ball rolling.
“If I hadn’t taken the time to come to Washington, DC, and introduce myself and the work we do to my lawmakers, Sen. Menendez would not have come to see the great work being done in his state,” DiCicco-Bloom said.
During the tour, the senator visited the microscope room, where he learned about a complicated process that turns a patient’s own blood cells into stem cells so they can be transformed into neurons to study neurodevelopmental disorders or for therapeutic purposes. The ability to use a patient’s own cells to create a therapy will open the door for personalized medicine. This procedure once took 8–10 weeks, but DiCicco-Bloom’s lab is working on a process that will get it down to 2–3 weeks. These weeks are critical, DiCicco-Bloom said, when a patient’s life is at stake.
After the thirty-minute tour, Menendez and DiCicco-Bloom held a press conference to address the importance of NIH-funded research like the experiments done in DiCicco-Bloom’s lab. Noting that private industry is unable to adequately fund basic science, the senator said that “it is only through institutes like Rutgers and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the investment [that] the NIH and other entities make that creates the promise of finding the ‘why.’”
After the event, DiCicco-Bloom offered to be a resource to the senator for any scientific information. “It’s important for constituents to speak up about their issues and offer themselves as a resource to their members of Congress,” DiCicco-Bloom said, “and I’m happy I was able to make this connection.”
Forty-seven neuroscientists visited over 70 Congressional offices during this year’s Hill Day on March 26 to explain why federal funding is so important to their research and community. To learn more about connecting with your member of Congress throughout the year, visit SfN’s advocacy page. Read more about getting involved in next year’s Hill Day on SfN’s Capitol Hill Day page.