In his inaugural address in January, President Barack Obama pledged to “restore science to its rightful place” and “not only to create jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.” These goals are intertwined in a $10 billion allocation to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the economic stimulus package approved by Congress, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The package comes as welcome relief to biomedical scientists at the School of Medicine and elsewhere who have endured years of flat NIH budgets that result in de facto cuts after adjusting for inflation.
The ARRA moneys provided to NIH for “extramural” distribution include $8.2 billion for research grants, $1 billion to support construction and renovation at NIH-funded research institutions, and $300 million for the purchase of scientific equipment. An additional $500 million will support improvements and construction at NIH’s own research facilities.
According to Carolyn W. Slayman, PH.D., deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, as of June 1 Yale scientists had completed more than 650 ARRA grant applications requesting nearly $387 million in support. Those grants are in addition to typical NIH awards, which last fiscal year totaled $350 million.
More than 250 of the ARRA applications, totaling almost a quarter billion dollars, were made under two new NIH grant initiatives. Challenge Grants, which will account for at least $200 million of the stimulus funding, will provide up to $500,000 per year for two years, and are aimed at what NIH terms “priority areas of research,” such as HIV therapy, pain management, and health disparities. Another $200 million has been assigned to Grand Opportunities, or “GO,” grants, which are targeted at “high-impact, well-defined, large-scale” research projects in such areas as nanotechnology, genomics, and Alzheimer disease.
In addition to providing jobs for postdocs, lab techs, administrators, and other Yale staff members, Slayman says, the ARRA grants will also indirectly, but significantly, stimulate the economy by providing revenue and jobs to equipment vendors and manufacturers, and to construction firms. Given the high historical percentage of Yale grant applications funded by the NIH, Slayman hopes that a “tsunami” of ARRA funds will begin arriving on campus this fall.