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Oct 3, 2013 7:57 PM by NBC News

Shutdown: Lives on the line

(NBC News) An extended government shutdown has the potential to affect severely ill patients who are hoping to enroll in federally-funded clinical trials that could extend or save their lives.

The issue is now the center of political debate as Congress tries to sort out when the government can re-open.

"If you are a family going to the N.I.H. for care, it's because you are in a critical, critical situation," said Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, a republican from North Carolina.

On Wednesday , the republican-led house voted to resume funding to the National Institutes of Health.

The move was rejected by democrats who say they're holding out until the entire government re-opens.

"Let the House stop those reckless, irresponsible games and just re-open the government," said House Speaker Harry Reid.

While the political debate continues, future medical research may be in trouble as the N.I.H. will not begin new studies while the government is shut down.

Although the N.I.H hospital in Maryland is not enrolling an average of 200 patients per week, patients already involved in clinical trials will continue to receive treatment.

And new patients at other hospitals across the country will be able to continue enrolling in ongoing trials funded by the N.I.H.

But with much of the N.I.H. staff forced off the job though, hospitals can't collaborate with their colleagues in the government.

"If there's a trial being done where samples must be sent to colleagues at the National Cancer Institute for analysis, that can't be done," said one doctor.

Cancer patient Michelle Langbehn was hoping she'd be approved for a clinical trial at the H.I.H. hospital this week.

She's now concerned her chances will dim if the shutdown continues.

"When you're given a terminal diagnosis, each month counts," Langbehn said.

The longer the shutdown lasts important clinical research will continue to be shelved, which could eventually have a major impact on patient care.

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