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KGI Alumna Anna Capria Participates in the Rally for Medical Research, Advocating for Robust NIH Funding

Anna Capria, an alumna of Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) ‘s Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics (MSGDA) program, recently participated in the Rally for Medical Research in Washington, D.C. to advocate for more robust funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This funding is vital to research nationwide and critical to advancing human health. 

The Rally for Medical Research has been held annually for the past 11 years, bringing together scientists and advocates from hundreds of organizations nationwide to meet with members of Congress and their staff. This year, Senator Dick Durbin, who has long supported scientific funding, spoke the day before the rally. 

“This was one of my favorite parts of the experience,” Capria, MSGDA ’23, said. 

Durbin told a story about how he was sitting on an airplane—back when smoking on planes was still legal—next to someone who worked in the airline industry. Durbin told this individual that airlines should change their smoking policy. The man replied that he could not do anything about it, but Durbin—as a politician—could.  

“That is partially why we no longer have smoking on planes,” Capria said. 

Other speakers included Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr. Keith Churchwell of the American Heart Association, NIH’s Acting Principal Deputy Director, Dr. Tara Schwetz, Coalition for the Life Sciences Chair Dr. Keith Yamamoto, and longtime Alzheimer’s advocate Sarah Harris.  

“This year, our advocacy efforts were significant,” Capria said. “Although funding has increased annually for the past eight years, major discrepancies exist between the House and the Senate regarding how much funding the NIH should receive. While the community that supports scientific research on Capitol Hill —including scientific staffers, lobbyists, and other organizations advocating for funding daily— is extensive, every voice matters.” 

Capria and her group, who represented California, met with staff for Senators Alex Padilla, the late Senator Diane Feinstein, and Representatives Scott Peters and Brad Sherman. They explained why NIH funding is essential and shared stories about their research.  

Capria described her current NIH-funded project, the Bacterial and Viral Bioinformatics Resource Center (BV-BRC), an information system that supports the biomedical research community’s work on bacterial and viral infectious diseases. In addition to hundreds of thousands of bacterial genomes and over a million viral genomes, the BV-BRC hosts data on protein structure and function, clinical studies, drug targets and resistance, and epidemiology while providing open-source tools for data analysis and genomic annotation. 

Another group member was involved in a project that analyzed the Salton Sea as a model for climate change. 

Before meeting with staff, Capria and her group learned to create a concise message, prioritizing the essential information to ensure their messages got through to the Congressional members.  

“You must be clear about what you’re asking for and why it’s important,” Capria said. “That’s one thing the rally organizers stressed to us. Also, stories are impactful.” 

She found some of the stories shared by cancer survivors to be particularly moving, emphasizing medical research’s impact on an individual’s life. She also heard powerful testimonials from first-generation Ph.D. students about their research projects, which, in turn, benefitted their families and their community. 

Overall, Capria found the rally to be an encouraging experience. 

“Those we met with were genuinely receptive and showed a passion for what we had to share,” Capria said. “We had constructive conversations with each office. I was impressed by their commitment to science, thoughtful questions, and support for NIH funding.” 

The rally is just one example of an advocacy method. As a participant in the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) advocacy certificate training program, Capria has gained real-world experience in several forms of advocacy. This includes a virtual Capitol Hill Day, where they met with representatives to share how genetic research is transforming medicine and saving lives, highlighting the importance of robust federal support. 

Capria serves as Outreach Coordinator and Bioinformatic Analyst for J. Craig Venter Institute, a multidisciplinary genomic-focused organization, maintaining and communicating active industry knowledge regarding scientific trends, disease outbreaks, and technological advances. She also advocates for users’ needs, translating them into tools to support users in their analysis better. 

Capria has long been passionate about advocacy, particularly genetics, ethics, and rare diseases. Her experience in the ASHG’s advocacy training program has enabled her to utilize her passion while deepening her skills. 

Capria shared, 

“Opportunities such as Capitol Hill Day and the Rally for Medical Research have allowed me to connect with leaders and understand the importance of communicating your specific science and the value of advocating for funding for all.”

“Each conversation got better and easier to get the message across. Engaging policy professionals is essential; these opportunities have equipped me to do it well in the future,” Capria said.

Capria encourages all medical professionals and research scientists to engage in advocacy. Their opinion makes a significant impact when it comes to helping public officials make informed decisions regarding medical research funding and other medical policies. 

If you want to get involved, a significant first step is to contact your representatives and get in touch with them. Get started here