With new program, NIH tests change in how it funds research

The future of biomedical research in the U.S. depends in part on the way the National Institutes of Health (NIH) fund projects and researchers.
The future of biomedical research in the U.S. depends in part on the way the National Institutes of Health (NIH) fund projects and researchers.

In a recent post on the NIGMS Feedback Loop blog, director of the National Institute of General Medicine Sciences (NIGMS) Dr. Jon Lorsch acknowledged the need for changes in the way the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds biomedical research.

In his post — titled “A Shared Responsibility” — Lorsch cites evidence that suggests that “funding smaller, more efficient research groups will increase the net impact of fundamental biomedical research: valuable scientific output per taxpayer dollar invested.”

Stating things bluntly, Lorsch says, “In the current zero-sum funding environment, the tradeoffs are stark: If one investigator gets a third R01, it means that another productive scientist loses his only grant or a promising new investigator can’t get her lab off the ground. Which outcome should we choose?”

Lorsch puts the NIGM’s new Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program forward as a possible solution. According to the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), the MIRA program aims to:

  • Increase the stability of funding for NIGMS-supported investigators, which could enhance their ability to take on ambitious scientific projects and approach problems more creatively.
  • Increase flexibility for investigators to follow important new research directions as opportunities arise, rather than being bound to specific aims proposed in advance of the studies.
  • More widely distribute funding among the nation’s highly talented and promising investigators to increase overall scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.
  • Reduce the time spent by researchers writing and reviewing grant applications, allowing them to spend more time conducting research.
  • Enable principal investigators to devote more time and energy to mentoring junior scientists in a more stable research environment.

Currently, MIRA is a pilot program limited to a small group of eligible applicants (to determine if you’re eligible, consult this flowchart), with letters of intent due April 20, 2015 and full proposals (including a “Research Strategy” section limited to six pages) due May 20, 2015. If the pilot is successful, NIGMS plans to issue additional FOAs open to additional groups of investigators.

Answers to frequently asked questions about the MIRA program can be found here.

Photo of NIH Building 1 by unknown photographer (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.  Aerial photo of NIH campus by National Cancer Institute (public domain), Via Wikimedia Commons.

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