Posts Tagged ‘grants; research; NIH’

Where Do NIH Funds Go?

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Even though we all know rankings are flawed, we still use them as indicators of quality. When BU’s School of Medicine advanced in the annual U.S. News and World Report survey of medical schools, the news appeared on the school’s website. Citation counts and impact factors play a role in promotion decisions despite accusations that the numbers can be manipulated.

When it comes to departmental bragging rights, one marker of excellence is total NIH funds garnered. The NIH used to release a ranking of where they allotted funds, but decided to devote its resources elsewhere. Robert Roskoski, Jr. stepped in to compile his own unofficial rankings. The retired LSU biochemistry professor analyzes raw data released by the NIH RePORTER to calculate his own ranking of grant recipients by medical school, department, and PI.

By his tally, BU’s Department of Medicine ranks 22nd among all departments of internal medicine in NIH funding for 2011. The $48 million the department brings in puts it ahead of the University of Iowa (with $45 million) but behind nationally leading Johns Hopkins with $153 million.

The count does not include funding received by Boston Medical Center (another $38 million in 2011). In fact, BMC ranks 11th of 110 teaching hospitals in grants received.

It’s absorbing to view the slices of data from different angles, but in the end the dollar totals tell only one measure of excellence.

NIH Budget

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Appropriations held a hearing on the budget request for the NIH in 2012. In his testimony, NIH Director Francis Collins warned that a cut in the NIH budget would make it even harder for applicants to receive funding. About 1 in 5 grants in 2010 received support from the NIH. Without an increase in funding, the NIH would be forced to limit awards to just 1 in 6 grants.

It’s encouraging to see the committee’s proceedings outside of the bipartisan bickering. Senators of both parties seem genuinely respectful of Dr. Collins and the work of the NIH. Still, the NIH budget may be affected by a wave of cutting.

The NIH Bubble

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

One feature of a medical campus that has struck me as different from an arts and sciences campus is the casual way that research faculty get hired. No strategic plan or educational mission determines the ideal number of faculty each section should have. Rather, Principal Investigators hire on new faculty to assist with their labs. Then, if the researcher cannot establish independent funding or the PI loses a grant, that faculty member is let go.

A commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education explains why this pattern has developed. After supplying start-up costs and some initial salary, universities can then funnel researchers into the NIH system. NIH grants, the primary source of funding for biomedical research, covers faculty salaries and provides overhead to the university. In this way, medical campuses have incentive to keep hiring more faculty, hope they obtain extramural funding, and then drop them if they don’t.

The same commentary also argues that this system is unsustainable. More and more investigators are entering the system, but the overall NIH budget has been flat since 2003. The crisis can already be seen in the number of applications for training grants, which tripled from 1997 to 2007 while success rates nearly halved.

One solution would be to require universities to support their own faculty, as the National Science Foundation already does. This would put a natural limit on the number of investigators on medical campuses, but it would give each of them enhanced stability and confidence to pursue research that matters, not just research that pays the bills.