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Medical researchers laid off after budget

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By Jennifer Liberto

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- It took a few months, but forced federal budget cuts are costing hundreds of science and medical research jobs.

Nearly half of the recipients who get federal science funding say they've recently laid off or will lay off scientists and researchers, because federal grants are tougher to win, according to a survey by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and 15 other scientific societies.

At Arkansas State University, 30 scientists and researchers have lost or will lose jobs by October from federal budget cuts at the defense and education departments that funded research detecting bombs and nerve agents.

At the University of Chicago, 3 laboratories have closed, costing six medical researchers jobs treating cancer, healing wounds and gastro-intestinal problems, due to funding cuts at the National Institutes of Health.

These are just some of the cuts underway thanks to $85 billion in forced spending cuts, called sequester, that kicked in March 1. And as more research grants don't get renewed, the layoffs will get worse, experts say.

"My post-doctoral student is facing losing a job in coming months if no new NIH funding comes in," said Professor Yuntao Wu at George Mason University's National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Molecular and Microbiology.

Wu has already laid off one technician at his lab, which works with a compound derived from soybeans to treat HIV. "We are facing closing the whole lab. That takes many years to build," he added.

Some 1,444 of 3,165 scientists reported layoffs are imminent or have taken place at their laboratories, because they couldn't renew federal grants.

About 54% of scientists reported that they know a colleague who has lost a job, according to the survey. The questionnaires went out in June and July.

The layoffs were first signaled months ago by Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. He warned earlier this year that the sequester would eventually cost 20,000 research and technician jobs.

The NIH has lost $1.6 billion from its $31 billion budget in its fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, on top of tighter budgets in 2012 and 2011. The NIH is the largest supporter of biomedical research in the United States, and cuts have led to hundreds of research projects not getting funding.

The National Science Foundation also has said 1,000 fewer grants would be awarded this year, compared to last year. NSF funds research and education in non-medical science and engineering.

The Department of Defense has also cut research funding in its quest to trim $40 billion from its budget by Sept. 30.

Scientists and lobbying groups say the funding climate endangers a generation of future scientists and breakthroughs.

"The data shows that deep cuts to federal investments in research are tearing at the fabric of the nation's scientific enterprise and have a minimal impact on overcoming our national debt and deficit problems," said Benjamin Corb, spokesman for the biochemistry group.

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