Tax Forms Offer ‘Check-Offs’ to Support Cancer Research

Beth Fitzgerald | March 21, 2012 | Health Care
As budgets are squeezed, every donation from refund checks aids research by NJ scientists

With less than a month before the tax deadline, cancer research groups are anticipating a boost in donations from taxpayers in the mood to give. New Jersey allows income taxpayers to check off a box on their returns dedicating dollars from their 2011 refund check to help fund cancer research.

The money is sorely needed. State funding that supported the work at New Jersey’s academic research centers was eliminated the past two fiscal years, and advocates are lobbying for the restoration of $1 million in the 2013 state budget.

“In an era of tight budgets, voluntary contributions from citizens are certainly helpful. But I don’t believe you can run consistent programs based on irregular funding,” said Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy with the Eastern Division of the American Cancer Society.

New Jersey taxpayers have a choice of donating to breast, prostate, or for the first time, lung cancer research. The donations, along with funds from the sale of “conquer cancer” license plates, go to the New Jersey Commission for Cancer Research, which has awarded more than $40 million to about 800 peer-reviewed cancer research grants and student fellowships since it was established nearly 30 years ago.

A study by the Bloustein School at Rutgers found researchers obtained an additional $10 for every $1 of commission grants from 1998 to 2004. The scientists were able to attract the additional funding from a variety of sources, including the National Institutes of Health and private foundations.

Dr. Yibin Kang, a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, who testified before the Assembly budget committee earlier this month, said the $100,000 grant he received in 2004 was the first grant he ever received as an independent scientist, leading to more than $10 million in funding for research on breast cancer metastasis over the next seven years.

A commission grant also supported the work of Dr. Eileen White, associate director for basic science at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. She was part of a team of nine cancer researchers from Rutgers, UMDNJ and Princeton who received a $557,000 grant from the commission in 2009 to investigate how cancer cells cannibalize themselves so that they can survive and thrive. That grant has led to larger NIH grants, White said.

“We are figuring out the mechanism of how cancer cells eat themselves and then survive by eating themselves,” she said. “It’s all about understanding how cancer cells recycle intercellular parts to sustain their metabolism.”

White said this work is basic research and would likely provide insights into many types of cancer. “Cancer is bad no matter what cancer you get. The basic process that we study is common to most cancer.”

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 50,600 New Jersey residents will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 16,650 will die from it.

The NJ-1040 state income tax form provides a check-off for $10 or $20 donations or write-in contributions of up to $99.99. According to the state Treasurer’s office, the money raised has slipped in recent years. The breast cancer check-off is down nearly 20 percent from 2009, with $178,719 raised last year. The prostate cancer check off has also dipped by about 20 percent from 2009, with $15,147 raised last year.