Advocates of breast cancer research, known as trailblazers for their hugely successful fund-raising efforts, are again going where no disease lobby has gone before: They're hoping Congress will authorize sale of the first postage stamp to set aside money for studying a disease.
The idea, first proposed to Representative Vic Fazio (D-CA) by a Sacramento oncologist, is steamrolling through Congress. Last week, the Senate approved an amendment to the Treasury-Postal spending bill, sponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that would order the Postal Service to create a special stamp costing a penny more than regular first-class stamps. The extra fee, minus administrative costs, would go toward breast cancer research at the Department of Health and Human Services, parent of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Feinstein says the stamp could raise $60 million for breast cancer if it claimed 10% of the market. When ScienceNOW was posted, the House was poised to vote on a similar bill that could set aside up to 8 cents per stamp, and would give 70% of the money directly to the NIH and the other 30% to the Department of Defense.
The Postal Service opposes the proposal, however, saying its mission is delivering mail, not funding research. Observers in the biomedical community are dubious, too. "If you do this for one disease," says a former House appropriations staffer, "clearly there's going to be very significant interest from all the other disease groups, very fast. That might kill it for everybody. You can't do 200 stamps for each disease." Senate skeptics also note that the idea has flopped in Canada, where sales of such stamps have been minuscule.