Illustration by Jim Cooke

America is a leader in biomedical research and medicine, and much of the fiscal fuel behind that research comes from the government funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Sure, scientific funding impacts our ability to understand myriad health conditions and figure out how to treat or prevent them. But it also has bearing on job creation, as well as the US’s role as a forward-looking leader in the development of new medical technologies and methods.

Hillary Clinton


Clinton sees funding medical research as a major economic boon, and in her plan to create new jobs, she vows to raise funding for both the NIH and the NSF. Clinton has taken a particularly strong stance against Alzheimer’s, stating in a New Hampshire town hall last year that she’s 100 percent committed to increasing Alzheimer’s research. She followed through 6 months later with a $2 billion per year funding proposal (Alzheimer’s research currently receives $600 million a year.)

Clinton also supports vaccination, and aggressively attacks Republicans on Twitter with #VaccinesWork. But her policy on genetically modified food is hazier. In 2014, Clinton gave a talk at a biotech conference saying that GMOs had a “vocabulary” problem. But when asked during a town hall about GMOs killing people, Clinton instead focused on opposing the government’s current agenda of blocking GMO labeling.

Bernie Sanders


Bernie Sanders views on biomedical research are deeply intwined with his battle against pharmaceutical companies. In 2007, Sanders addressed the Senate floor with a story of breast cancer patients crossing the Vermont border to get cheaper Canadian drugs. In 2011, he introduced the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act to incentivize investment in new medicine while eliminating “monopolies” on the research, thereby driving down drug prices.

Sanders has openly supported vaccinations, voted in support of expanding stem cell research, and openly stated support for reversing Republican spending cuts on medical funding—specifically regarding Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer—according to a Reddit AMA.

Donald Trump


Donald Trump said last year that it would be “great” if shock jock Michael Savage—the same guy who once told a caller they should “get AIDS and die”—became the director of the NIH.

Savage isn’t a horrific NIH director candidate because he’s rude. Before he was a conservative radio star, Savage published health-focused books under his real name. As Mother Jones pointed out, the books are bonkers: One encourages diet plans based on ethnicity, another suggests Vitamin C can stop AIDs.

Of course, what Trump says on the campaign trail and what he’ll actually do in office are two different things. Maybe he won’t even consider Savage. Maybe he’ll appoint a brilliant NIH director. It’s hard to say, because many of Trump’s remarks about science and health research have been bizarre, inaccurate, and quite clearly not thought out. Remember when he went anti-vaxxer?


Ted Cruz


Ted Cruz has called for more spending on Alzheimer’s research, and said the current approach to funding for cures is “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” This doesn’t mean that Cruz supports research for disease cures that uses embryonic stem cells. He emphatically does not. His enthusiasm for finding cures butts up against his crusade against using fetal tissue in research.

Cruz released a campaign ad last year promising to “prosecute and defund” Planned Parenthood for its (legal) fetal tissue donation program, where aborted fetal tissue is given to medical researchers. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, the ad cited the polio vaccine as a triumph without acknowledging that polio vaccine research involved the use of fetal tissue.

In a Facebook post during the height of the Ice Bucket Challenge trend, Cruz specified that he supported ALS research done “without using embryonic stem cells.”


And while he supports vaccines, Cruz said that the federal government should not interfere with states’ vaccination policies. This doesn’t mean he’ll oppose vaccine research, but it does suggest a troubling deference to the anti-vaccination movement.

Marco Rubio


Marco Rubio is staunchly pro-life, and he lets that guide most of his decisions about biomedical research. He supports stem cell research in some cases, but strongly opposes embryonic stem cell research.

Rubio is supportive of vaccinations. “Absolutely, all children in America should be vaccinated,” said Rubio according to an NBC News report. “Unless their immune (system is) suppressed, obviously, for medical exceptions, but I believe that all children, as is the law in most states in this country, before they can even attend school, have to be vaccinated for a certain panel.”


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