The more funding the federal government can funnel into medical research, the greater chances scientists have for advancing research and finding a cure for eczema. Patients can play a fundamental role in boosting medical research funding by meeting with their elected representatives and sharing their experiences living with a chronic disease.
On Sept. 19, 2019, a coalition of groups representing the medical research advocacy community met with elected officials on Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to make funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a national priority. The NIH is the nation’s preeminent medical research agency and the largest source of funding for eczema research in the United States.
Ryland Mortlock, a 22-year-old eczema warrior living in Bethesda, Maryland, was among those attending Rally for Medical Research Hill Day on behalf of the millions of Americans living with eczema. He recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in biochemical engineering and moved to the nation’s capital to pursue a career in research.
Mortlock – who had the opportunity to meet with his elected officials, Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and House of Representatives member Jamie Raskin – spoke about his experiences at Rally for Medical Research Hill Day and what it means to advocate for eczema warriors nationwide.
Eczema Matters: Could you give us a rundown of what goes on in these meetings?
Ryland Mortlock: In these meetings, we each shared where we live and what organizations we represent. Then we presented our unified ask that Congress support a funding increase of at least $2.5 billion for NIH and to work quickly on the appropriations bill to avoid disruption to life-saving biomedical research. It was very cool to see so many people from so many organizations come together to advocate for a common goal.
I shared about my experience growing up with moderate to severe eczema. Specifically, I read a paragraph my mom wrote about caring for me and my brother through our eczema. I wanted to show how investing in research to help cure diseases not only helps those who suffer from them, but also their friends and family too.
EM: Is it intimidating to meet elected officials in person?
RM: I definitely was a little nervous because I have never done this type of advocacy before. It helped that there were seasoned advocates there to teach me how it goes, and who had already formed relationships with many of the elected officials.
Because all three of the Maryland representatives we met with are big advocates for funding for biomedical research, the meetings were not very intimidating. It was really just a chance to share our stories and encourage the representatives to continue their fight for funding biomedical research, which advances all of our causes.
EM: What were some of your biggest takeaways from the day?
RM: My biggest takeaway is the importance of biomedical research. Everybody is affected by one disease or another, and by providing funding to the NIH to keep supporting science, we invest in our nation’s future health.
Additionally, providing robust funding for research enables us to keep bright young scientists in research so that we can increase the flow of creative ideas to solve these tough problems in biomedical research, like cancer, Alzheimer’s and eczema.
EM: What led you to want to get involved in patient advocacy?
RM: It was really attending the Eczema Expo this past summer that made me want to get involved in advocacy. I heard so many stories, many from people who have had struggles with atopic dermatitis (AD) that I can’t even imagine. It got me interested in how our stories can help inspire more research and more clinical education around AD.
EM: What advice would you give to other members of the eczema community who want to get involved in advocacy?
RM: I would say go for it! And get connected with NEA so they can help you find opportunities. I had no experience with advocacy before now and participating in this event has helped me realize that we do have elected officials who represent us, and they want to hear our stories! By sharing our stories, we give policymakers and researchers fuel to fight on our behalf. It has been an eye-opening experience for me.