America always has led the world in biomedical research and innovation. We are the country that led the international effort to map the human genome, helped discover the structure of DNA and brought the world everything from medical gloves to electric hearing aids to adhesive bandages. Medical innovation is not uniquely American, but it is something that has always set us apart.

Today, however, we find ourselves at a crossroads. While the United States remains the largest global spender on research and development, our investments are flat-lining while other countries like China are rapidly catching up. If we are going to maintain our spot as a leader in innovation, and if we are going to finally unlock cures for cancer and treatments for Alzheimer’s, we need to boost our investments in biomedical research — like the cutting-edge work done at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The national nerve center for that research is the National Institutes of Health, or NIH.

The NIH long has been the bedrock of our nation’s biomedical innovation. NIH supports research in every state across the country. A remarkable 145 NIH-supported researchers have brought home 85 Nobel Prizes. These great minds — 6,000 at the NIH campus and 300,000 spread out among 2,500 institutions, including several in our state — advance science that spans the spectrum of medical discovery. That means everything from basic lab research on the building blocks of the body to final-stage clinical trials where patients in need of new options can test groundbreaking treatments.

This research not only leads to breakthrough treatments and life-changing cures, it also stimulates our economy and creates high-quality jobs. In Minnesota alone, $509 million from NIH funding supports more than 9,000 jobs and produces over $1 billion in economic activity every year. Nationally, every dollar in NIH funding produces more than $2 in local economic growth.

And yet our country’s commitment to funding NIH has failed to keep pace with the innovation and imagination of our researchers.

Consider this: As a percentage of the total federal budget, the government currently spends two-thirds less on research and development than it did in 1965. When factoring in inflation, NIH’s purchasing power has declined by 22 percent in the past decade alone. That is not a recipe for maintaining our leadership in the 21st century.

So how can we reverse this trend and ensure America continues to lead the world in biomedical innovation and discovery?

First, we need to provide vital funding to NIH in the short term. As Congress continues to debate spending priorities for the next fiscal year, I have called on the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee to make NIH a priority by allocating the $32 billion in funding that the agency needs to keep pace with inflation.

Second, we need to rethink how we fund NIH research over the long term so that researchers have predictable, dependable funding sources that are not subject to the whims of Washington. I have co-sponsored legislation called the American Cures Act that would increase our investment in work at the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense Health Program and the Veterans Medical and Prosthetics Research Program by 5 percent each year, providing the sustained funding necessary for sustained research and innovation. I also have joined the newly formed NIH caucus, a bipartisan group of senators that will work together to strengthen the NIH and support its biomedical research.

Investing in the NIH will play a key role in promoting and expanding the medical breakthroughs of the future, including fields like precision medicine, health care tailored to a person’s genes, environment and lifestyle, which holds the promise of revolutionizing the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Strong funding for the NIH is vital to ensuring that the U.S. is second to none when it comes to pioneering next-generation fields of medicine.

Ultimately, we need to remember the real goal of research and innovation: saving lives and offering hope when hope seems lost. Continued medical progress is not a given — far from it. We must keep investing in the future to keep from falling behind and to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s treatments and cures. One of the single best ways to do so is to fund research and innovation at the NIH.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is Minnesota’s senior senator and a leading advocate of funding for the National Institutes of Health.