Oct. 17, 2013— -- Research scientists with the National Institutes of Health returned to work today, 17 days after being forced from their labs by furloughs.
The labs, which are home to some of the most cutting-edge disease research in the country, at least had electricity throughout the government shutdown, sparing precious cells and tissues stored at sub-zero temperatures. Lab animals were also unaffected, according to an NIH spokeswoman.
But the shutdown still managed to stall research on cancer and other deadly diseases by halting experiments and delaying funding decisions, officials said.
The NIH furloughed 13,698 employees on Oct. 1, retaining less than 5,000 essential staffers "for the safety of human life or the protection of property," according to a spokeswoman.
The cuts brought studies to a standstill and prompted the cancellation of all scientific meetings held at NIH facilities. They also delayed the grant review process, through which some 300,000 scientists receive funding for their work.
Beyond holding up laboratory research, the shutdown blocked clinical trials at NIH hospitals from enrolling most new patients, prompting fear among families for which such trials are a last resort for treatment.
The true impact of the shutdown on NIH may become more clear on Friday, the spokeswoman said.