Flat funding and a new research paradigm have turned federal funding of medical research on its head. After the recent doubling of the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), funding has leveled off, resulting in a net decrease thanks to inflation. And the NIH is shifting the remaining dollars away from lone investigators to multidisciplinary teams of scientists.
Both trends are being felt at the School of Medicine. In October the school received its largest NIH research grant ever, a $57.3-million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), a new grant designed to encourage interdisciplinary research and the rapid movement of laboratory findings into human studies.
The award, one of 12 made around the country, will “transform how clinical and translational research is conducted,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
The CTSA fits in with the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which calls for reshaping clinical research to accelerate medical discovery. It also fits in with the medical school’s own planning, said Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine.
“A strategic planning initiative we launched in 2004 identified clinical research as a top priority and established the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI), a focal point for translational research,” Alpern said. “The YCCI’s structure, which builds on Yale’s strengths in education, basic science and community-based research, is virtually identical to the vision put forth by the NIH in this new program.”
“With the CTSA grant we will be able to train many more clinical investigators, known as YCCI Scholars, who will be well-equipped to assemble the expert interdisciplinary teams they need to do top-quality translational research,” said Robert S. Sherwin, M.D., YCCI director and principal investigator on the CTSA grant.
Meanwhile, scientists at Yale and other universities are finding grants harder to acquire. Over the last two years, said Carolyn W. Slayman, Ph.D., deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, Yale’s success rate has fallen, in line with national trends, but it is still above the national average.
“Some labs might have to cut back on the number of people in the lab, making it more difficult to complete projects,” said Lynn Cooley, Ph.D., professor of genetics and cell biology and director of the Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences. “Students and postdocs in training contribute enormously to research excellence in their labs. Both valuable research and the pipeline of new research talent are threatened by these budget cuts.”
Slayman said the medical school’s Grants and Contracts Office, working with the development staff and with the Office of Cooperative Research, is providing information on alternative funding, including nonfederal granting agencies, foundations and corporations. She said these efforts have met with some success—direct grant dollars to Yale researchers increased by 5.9 percent last year.
“We are working closely with department chairs and program directors to provide as much help as possible to faculty members who run into difficulty with grant support,” Slayman said.