After the federal stimulus plan opened up more than $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health to dole out in the next two years, they now have researchers and scientists across the country lining up for their slice of the pie.
With the April 27 stimulus deadline application fast approaching, University Internal Medicine Researcher Jeffrey Ruth and other University scientists have joined in on what has become a frantic rush to generate preliminary data.
Amid the flood, Ruth said the process has been very different from the typical NIH mechanism for Research Project Grants. Ordinarily, these grant applications cover five years of study and are around 25 pages long. By contrast, the stimulus grants are half the length of a traditional NIH proposal and span only two years for the same amount of funding.
“You write the grant, get it in as quick as possible and you have one shot at it — no resubmissions,” said Ruth. “It’s basically a rush to get the money out into the economy.”
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will provide the NIH with $10.4 billion for the next two years, according to a recent statement issued by Raynard Kington, the acting director at the NIH. The NIH will, in turn, allocate funds to colleges across the country for the coming year.
Last year, nearly 45 percent of the University’s research expenditures came from NIH-funded grants, according to one press release. The University’s Medical School, which received more than $301 million for the 2008 fiscal year, ranked seventh among all universities in grant funding from the NIH.
Exact figures for the NIH allocation from the stimulus package have not yet been announced for 2009.
Ruth said the shortened timeframes and requirement of fewer specifications reflect the focus of the stimulus grants in encouraging researchers to generate experimental data as quickly as possible, instead of following the more methodical, time-intensive traditional process.
Previously involved with study sections for the U.S. Department of Defense, Ruth said the pressure for expediency in reporting data has drawn concern in some scientific circles.
The government has had difficulty with recruiting enough specialized reviewers to accommodate the volume of incoming grants. This has compelled researchers like Ruth, who is researching a potential therapeutic solution for arthritis-induced inflammation, to tailor their proposals to a broader audience.
“I don’t know if the best science is going to get funded since things are going so quick,” Ruth said. “You may have (a reviewer) who’s an expert in science but not necessarily someone in your field.”
Despite its drawbacks, Ruth said there may be some advantages to the new application process.
While the stimulus grant applications are not as rigorous as they have been in the past, Ruth said they may offer a testing ground for novel ideas that may not have had sufficient backing to receive grant funding in the past. For new research investigators in particular, the stimulus plan may ultimately provide an opportunity to establish themselves in the field.
At the “State of Research at the University” discussion last week, University Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest commented on the importance of the boost in federal funding, despite the nation’s economic troubles.
“It’s one of the ironies of our age,” Forrest said. “The United States seems to be going broke, but we’ve never found so much money in research.”
Forrest said research funding nationwide has been sagging for more than six years with renewed interest coming only recently with the stimulus plan and the federal budget outlined for the 2009 fiscal year.
“We finally have an administration that really gets it,” he said referring to the Obama administration’s focus on research. “They understand, in a fundamentally different way than we’ve seen in the last 20 or 30 years, the relationship between innovation and economic strength.”