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Vital Signs

Stimulus dollars prompt rise in research income

By Katherine Vonderhaar

Physiologist Bruce Stanton heads three large projects that got stimulus grants.

With the help of stimulus dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), DMS garnered 4% more grant and contract income in the 2009 than the 2008 fiscal year. DMS researchers brought in $115.6 million in FY09, up from FY08's $111.2 million.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides the majority of DMS research income. But annual NIH budget increases have "ranged from appalling to merely dismal over the past few years," says Jennifer Friend, the director of research support services at DMS. So when extra research money was offered as part of the federal stimulus package, "the response not just here but overall was huge," she explains.

Fund: The NIH announced it would use stimulus money to fund about 200 special "Challenge Grants" in particular research areas, and approximately 20,000 applications were submitted nationwide. The funding requested by DMS investigators shot up 49%.

Total: The amount of stimulus money DMS actually received in FY09—$2.9 million—is small relative to the Medical School's overall research portfolio. But Friend thinks it was the main reason that grant and contract income rose, since NIH funding has stagnated in recent years. Falling NIH funding drove FY08's 11% drop in research income from FY07's total.

In FY09, some departments secured significantly more funding than in the previous fiscal year. The Department of Physiology received $10.2 million, an increase of 74%. And the Departments of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, Psychiatry, and Surgery each added more than $1 million to their research totals.

Sources: The NIH and other agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services provided about 66% of DMS's research funding. State and local governments accounted for about 11%. Other sources included foundations (7%) and corporations (5%).

Some of the ARRA money was used to fund proposals submitted before Congress passed the stimulus package in February 2009. In January, physiologist Allan Gulledge, Ph.D., had asked for a specialized microscope that enables researchers to peer deep into live tissue. ARRA money later paid for the microscopy facility, which will be shared by DMS, Dartmouth College, and Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering.

DMS has received over $30 million in federal stimulus funding all told.

Many ARRA awards will be reflected in FY10's research portfolio. (DMS has received over $32 million in ARRA funds all told.) For example, physiologist Bruce Stanton, Ph.D., is the principal investigator on three such grants totaling $2.5 million. Most of the money was designated for hiring additional people to expand two initiatives—Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Research Program and collaborative Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in lung biology.

Jobs: While the stimulus dollars are helping to preserve research jobs—while keeping important work under way—Stanton is worried that securing funding may be "even harder after the ARRA money dries up."

Friend observes that the call to increase federal support for research has recently shifted focus. Science advocacy groups are starting to frame federal research funding as an economic issue, she says. "Federal funds create good, paying jobs . . . in pretty much every congressional district in the country," she notes.

It would be nice if the government pumped more money into research "because it's the right thing to do," she adds. But it doesn't hurt to also have members of Congress support research to create jobs for voters.

If you'd like to offer feedback about these articles, we'd welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.

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