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Vital Signs

Grant income goes down as NIH funding falls

By Amos Esty

Due in large part to decreased funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and corporations, DMS researchers experienced an 11% decline in grant and contract income in fiscal year 2008. Overall, DMS brought in about $111 million in funding, down from about $125 million in FY07.

But Radiology, for example,
saw its research income
more than double.

"The biggest reason is the National Institutes of Health budget," says Dr. William Green, the dean of DMS. He notes that the NIH budget has remained flat over the past several years, while the cost of conducting research has risen, resulting in a net loss in money available. Jennifer Friend, the director of research support services at DMS, says that it's a difficult time to obtain funding. "The grant environment is much more competitive for our researchers," she says. "So it's taking multiple iterations and resubmissions for people to get funded."

Stimulus: These effects have been felt elsewhere as well. The acting director of the NIH, Dr. Raynard Kington, has said that thousands of meritorious proposals have been denied funding in recent years because of a lack of funds. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a supporter of biomedical research, pushed for the NIH to receive supplementary funding as part of the recently passed economic stimulus bill. "The National Institutes of Health have been starved recently," he said in a statement. (See the "Facts & Figures" box for more on NIH funding.)

Gains: But some DMS departments did make gains in FY08. The Department of Radiology, for example, saw its research income more than double. The Department of Community and Family Medicine saw an increase of about $2.5 million, and income for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology rose by more than $1 million.

Like other medical school and biomedical research institutions across the country, DMS may stand to gain further from the economic stimulus bill. The final version of the bill appropriated an extra $10.4 billion to the NIH, more than $8 billion of which was directed to be used to fund research.

Of course, Green notes, how that money will be disbursed by the NIH remains a crucial question. NIH director Kington has said that one way the agency will use this money is to fund meritorious proposals that could not previously be funded. The NIH also plans to issue calls for new proposals.

However, both new grants and earlier proposals will receive only two years of funding, rather than the standard four years associated with the NIH's so-called RO1 grants. (RO1 grants are awarded to a single investigator, in contrast to the agency's multi-investigator or multidisciplinary award mechanisms.)

"There are a lot of things we can't control," says Friend, noting that questions remain about how funding for biomedical research will change in years to come. That's why she thinks it's important to focus on what DMS can control-ensuring that every grant

DMS's research income reflects the decline in recent years in the NIH budget.

proposal has the best possible chance of success.

Opportunities: Green says, for example, that there are opportunities for DMS to gain ground in multidisciplinary areas, like the two Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence already funded at DMS by the NIH, in lung biology and immunology. "I think we need to do a better job at trying to take advantage of those opportunities," he says.

At this point, Friend cautions, it might be a bit late for recent changes to affect funding for the current fiscal year, but she is hopeful that things will get better given the Obama administration's professed commitment to scientific research. "We certainly have reason to be optimistic that the environment will improve," she says.

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