Posts Tagged ‘NIH’

Race and R01s

Friday, August 19th, 2011

A study in Science reports findings from an analysis of over 83,000 applications for R01 funding between 2000 and 2006. The researchers identified the race of the applicants to determine the likelihood of receiving an NIH grant.

They found that self-identified Asian investigators are 4% less likely and African-American investigators 13% less likely to receive funding than white applicants. The disparity went away among applications with similar priority scores.Science 2011 Aug 333(6045) 1015-9, Fig. 1

It seems that very little in the application would distinguish the race of the principal investigator, so reviewer bias (unconscious or not) is probably not the main cause. Rather, minority applicants may receive less mentoring in how to formulate and write a proposal.

Beyond the R01

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

In 2007, two economists were interested in how much an R01 grant from the NIH influences subsequent publication. Presumably, researchers who receive funding would generate more data and produce more academic papers. Quantifying the impact of government funds provides an important argument for continued public investment in science.

The authors analyzed all applications for R01 support (both successful and unsuccessful) between 1980 and 2000. The sample included over 18,000 individual researchers. Surprisingly, the data showed that scientists who received NIH grants produced one additional paper over the subsequent five years compared to those who did not receive the grant. Nor do the citation rates of grantees differ significantly from their unfunded counterparts.

The findings do not necessarily devalue the importance of  NIH-funded research. Biomedical benefits go beyond the publishing of papers. The authors hypothesize that researchers who fail to receive NIH funds usually locate other sources of support or shift their area of interest to a more fundable topic. Resilience is key.

Gender and Grants

Friday, May 27th, 2011

A comprehensive analysis of NIH funding for 2008 shows that success and funding rates differed little between female and male applicants. While this is good news, the study did reveal that almost all of the midcareer and senior investigator grants received significantly more male than female applicants.

Other results reflect a gap between male and female invetigators:

  • Women are less successful at receiving renewals of R01 awards.
  • 30% of investigators with only one R01 award are female, but only 13% of those who hold four or more R01s.
  • Women are more likely to perform human subjects research.

The overall message, however, is one of increasing parity. It is especially encouraging that women predominate in applications for some of the early career training grants. Still, it shouldn't take the turnover in generations to institute greater equality.

Skipping the Postdoc

Friday, February 25th, 2011

In 1981 the average age of investigators receiving their first R01 grants was 36. In 2009, it was 42. Because attaining independent funding is often a requirement for securing an assistant professorship, the delay has led to a prolonged postdoctoral period.

Recognizing that an increased training period has the potential to stifle creative thinking among the most innovative minds, NIH director Francis Collins has established an Early Independence Award. These grants, roughly equivalent to an R01 award, would enable talented scientists to begin independent research directly from their doctoral program.

In explaining his rationale, Collins mentions the importance of giving motivated young investigators a lab of their own. The new award will require departments to support the winners, but in return they will receive an energetic colleague with a promising future.

Ethics and the NIH

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

In 2008, Emory University ruled that Charles Nemeroff, a professor of psychiatry, was ineligible to apply for NIH grants for two years. Dr. Nemeroff had failed to disclose over $1 million in payments from pharmaceutical companies whose products he promoted in academic journals.

Now, a Chronicle of Higher Education investigation has revealed that Dr. Nemeroff ducked punishment by applying for a jot at the University of Miami Medical Center. One of his recommenders was none other than the National Institute of Mental Health director who wrote the ethics rule that Nemeroff violated. While Nemeroff was accepting drug company donations, he was also cultivating friends at the NIH, who returned his favors.

Revealing conflicts of interest is not just some nicety that applies to researchers with little clout. It is integral to the research process itself. Unsurprisingly, Nemeroff promoted drugs in which he had a financial stake, consistently downplaying their serious side effects. Penalties should follow a researcher from institution to institution, pointing to the need for better oversight at the NIH.