Senator Lamar Alexander’s Leadership in Research for Health Results in Landmark Legislation

Anna Hatch

This article is the fifth in a series highlighting the accomplishments of Research!America’s 2017 Advocacy Award honorees who will be saluted at a dinner in Washington, D.C., on March 15. More details can be found here.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) will be receiving Research!America’s Edwin C. Whitehead Award for Medical Research Advocacy, which honors exemplary leaders, particularly those in public office, who have shown a long-standing commitment to advancing health research as a national priority.

Alexander has shown a strong commitment to improving the lives of Americans and, as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, he championed the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act last year.

“Last year, Congress passed into law 21st Century Cures. It will help us take advantage of the breathtaking advances in biomedical research and bring those innovations to doctors’ offices and patients’ medicine cabinets across the nation. It will help make better health possible for virtually every American, and I look forward to continuing our bipartisan work in committee this Congress on behalf of American families,” said Senator Alexander.

The Cures Act widely supports the research pipeline, and Alexander is hopeful that Cures will lead to more innovative scientific breakthroughs similar to the one Tennessee native Doug Oliver experienced. Oliver, who was blind as a result of an inherited form of macular degeneration, regained his vision after participating in a clinical trial that injected isolated stem cells from his hip into his retina. Oliver’s response to the treatment was so successful that Oliver passed his driving test within a few months of having the procedure.

Cures makes a substantial investment in research. A major component of the legislation is $4.8 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health to support the Cancer Moonshot, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The Moonshot focuses on accelerating cancer research, therapeutics and diagnostics, while the Precision Medicine Initiative seeks to understand how genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors influence disease variability—information that will be used to develop more effective individualized treatments. The BRAIN Initiative is generating a dynamic map of the human brain, which will enable researchers to better detect, prevent and treat brain disorders.

Cures also includes legislation to support mental health, and $1 billion to address the growing opioid epidemic. The bill contains funding for the Food and Drug Administration to help expedite the review of drugs and medical devices, and support provisions to improve electronic medical records.

Alexander has a long history of public service.  He was elected Governor of Tennessee in 1979 and served for two terms. During his campaign in 1978, Alexander famously walked across Tennessee wearing a red and black plaid shirt to help connect with voters. Alexander served as the U.S. Secretary of Education for President George H.W. Bush. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002 and was elected by his colleagues in 2013 to serve as the senior Republican, or ranking member, of the HELP Committee. He has been chairman of the HELP committee since 2015. Alexander also serves as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

Throughout his career, Alexander has been recognized as a strong voice for scientific research.  The insect Cosberella LamarAlexanderi was named after Alexander because of his support of research in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The insect’s markings resemble the iconic plaid shirt Alexander wore during his gubernatorial campaign.

Alexander also served as president of the University of Tennessee from 1988 to 1991, which now honors a UT faculty member each year with the Alexander Prize. Named after the Senator and his wife, Honey, the award recognizes an individual who demonstrates excellence in teaching and research.

Anna Hatch is a Research!America Communications Intern.

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