Schlissel voices concern over proposed cuts to the NIH

Friday, July 14, 2017 - 11:07am

On Monday, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel released a letter to the community expressing concern for a federal proposal, part of the FY18 budget, that would cut funding for research at the University, specifically targeting reimbursements for facilities and administrative costs. Schlissel said the proposal would reduce jobs and “shift research portfolios.” 

Schlissel called on the community to spread the word about F&A reimbursements and their benefits to universities and society.

The proposal affects grants from the National Institutes of Health, which provided over $400 million in support of faculty research at the University last year; the University would lose $92 million with the proposed 10 percent cap. In his letter, Schlissel noted though there is bipartisan support for NIH funding, some legislators feel there should be a cap on F&A costs, particularly with regard to medical research. He expressed concern specifically for laboratories funded by the NIH.

NIH grants consist of direct costs to fund research projects and of F&A costs, overhead or infrastructural costs; such costs “cannot be assigned to a single project,” but affect all labs by providing technical necessities such as space, lighting and IT infrastructure, among others.

“Like you, we chose to work at a research university whose work advances the public good,” Schlissel wrote. “The people who stand to lose most from the administration’s proposal are our patients, our students, and the members of our community whose health is improved or whose lives are saved by the amazing research we do.”

In his letter, Schlissel notes F&A costs are set in partnership between universities and the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, which oversees the NIH, using a set of guidelines.

In a memo attached to the letter, there are more details about the reimbursement rates. In establishing the rates, the University uses only the resources used to support NIH-funded research. The costs are audited and “based on an average of specified expenditures from all NIH funded projects at an institution and set in accordance with current federal guidelines.”

Bishr Omary, Chief Scientific Officer of Michigan Medicine, expressed concern for the cuts in an email interview with the Daily, regardless of whether they are directly or indirectly affecting University research.

“A reduction in the NIH budget, whether relating to ‘direct’ research support or to the facilities and administrative ‘indirect’ support will have detrimental effects for years to come,” he wrote.

Omary also noted the negative impact on students pursuing futures in research.

“The short-term impact will be the closing of investigator laboratories that research institutions, including the NIH, have invested in for years,” he wrote. “The more detrimental long-term impact will be loss of the pipeline of young bright minds who will be rightfully disillusioned from pursuing research careers.”

LSA sophomore Trisha Gupte, who currently volunteers in a University laboratory using NIH funds, spoke on how the F&A expenses at stake of being cut, such as animal care facilities, are fundamental elements to laboratory processes and the lack of which would hinder scientific morality.

“I have to say that aspects like that (animal care facilities) are vital to the integrity of every experiment and should not ever be compromised,” Gupte said. “ If this plan goes into effect, it will change NIH funded research everywhere and not necessarily for the better.”