Over the last 70 years, treatments for cancers have evolved steadily. What once used to be a disease that had to be treated either by surgery or radiation, is now an affliction for which doctors have a number of therapeutics to offer patients. 

Take, for example, CAR T-cell therapy, the latest breakthrough made by researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the regimen takes a patient's t-cells, genetically modify them to make them stronger, and then infuses them back into the patient to fight off blood cancers.

It's a major breakthrough that happened in large part thanks to government funding, said Dr. Laurie Glimcher, Dana Farber's president and chief executive officer. Many advancements in the fight against cancer come thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, but that financial support from the government has taken a hit over the last decade.

"The amount of NIH funding over the last decade has declined by about 20 percent in real dollar terms," Glimcher said on Greater Boston. "We're losing pipeline talent, and we're having senior researchers abandon the field because they can't get their grants funded."

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, more than 25 percent of the advances in cancer treatments were partially funded by federal dollars. As that support lags, so do American researchers trying to keep up with their counterparts around the world. In China, for example, they are investing $300 billion over the next five years for cancer research and development. We need to ask ourselves, Glimcher said, "Is America going to fall behind in innovation?"

Last year, President Trump proposed a roughly $7 billion cut to the NIH's budget, though lawmakers voted to give the agency at least a $1.1 billion boost. However, since Congress has yet to pass a final budget, the funding level remains in limbo.

The NIH was instrumental in helping Dana Farber develop CAR T-cell treatments. Without that support, it would have taken longer to make the breakthrough discovery.

"It requires scientists who are very comfortable with molecular pathways and cellular pathways," Glimcher said. "It's not the kind of research that can easily be supported elsewhere but at the NIH, and that research was absolutely critical to the eventual therapeutic."