Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Well my second re-submission of my NRSA is finally on its way to the NIH today. This is my last try (for this grant), so if its still not getting a fundable score, I’ve got to scrap the whole thing. So, obviously, I’m REALLY hoping I don’t have to do that. (Fingers crossed!)

While writing it, I became interested in the dynamics of grant funding (specifically the training grants like mine) at the NIH. Incidentally, Nature published a news piece in 2004 (Nature 428, 879 (2004) doi:10.1038/428879a) that touched on the same topic.

Budget pressures caused by flat funding at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are beginning to take their toll on research training, grant applicants say.

The prestigious NIH training grants that support nearly 18,000 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are in trouble as the size of the stipend they offer increases, while the pot of money that funds them is unchanged.

So, this seems to be one problem. Either give a lot of students money (but not enough), or a few students money (but they can live off it).

Furthermore, most of the available money is already committed to the multi-year grants that were awarded when the biomedical research agency’s budget was going up, earlier in the decade. The upshot is that applicants’ chances of success have fallen sharply — by as much as half at some institutes.

This make the chances of funding new grants in the interim much lower. The funding levels in many NIH divisions are in the single digits now.

“Our institute is firmly committed to training,” John McGowan, director of the NIAID extramural division, says, “but if outgoing commitments go up and there are no new dollars, we will have to make some tough decisions.”

So what about more recently? Well here’s a short Powerpoint presentation that was presented to the Senate in May, detailing the request for more fund, justified by the huge strides that the NIH has made in giving Americans a better life. Here’s a copy of the President’s budget for the NIH for 2007.

The NIH budget, broken down by year (RPG = Research project grants):
i-90d2ff86c4e196b94d11f5e694f7b84b-nih budget.bmp

So essentially, there is no proposed increase in the total NIH budget, this year or next year. However, some special projects are receiving increases in their specific budgets (with equal and opposite decreases from other programs.) One of these is “biodefense”:

The intentional release of anthrax in 2001 underscored the seriousness of the threat of
bioterrorism. In addition to anthrax, the microbes of most concern are smallpox, plague,
tularemia, hemorrhagic fevers, and botulinum toxin. These agents are highly lethal and have the
potential to be deployed as bioweapons. NIH will continue implementation of the long-range
strategic plan for biodefense research. The NIH total Biodefense budget level is $1,891 million,
an increase of $110 million and 6.2 percent over FY 2006. Within this increase, NIH will direct
$160M, an increase of +$110M over the FY 2006 program level of $50 million, to an Advanced
Development fund in the NIH Office of the Director.

In addition, the NIH has constructed a new “roadmap for biomedical research” which involves the shuttling of over $300 million away from the NIH divisions towards special roadmap projects. There is no new money in the NIH budget to make up for that loss; the divisions will just have to “make do” with this decrease, fund their committed RPGs, and fund new ones too?

At the end of the day, the NIH’s budget is broken down like this (View image). Funding for project grants (like RO1s) is 52%, research training (training grants) gets 3%.

In the FY 2007 Request for NIH, stipends for trainees supported by the Ruth L. Kirschstein
National Research Service Award (NRSA) will remain at the FY 2006 Appropriation levels. No
increases are provided for other components of the NRSA training programs, such as tuition or
health benefits. In the FY 2007 request, training remains at approximately the same level as the
FY 2006 Appropriation. The FY 2007 Level will support 17,499 Full-Time Training Positions
(FTTPs), approximately the same as the FY 2006 Appropriation.

So, no love for NRSAs this year.


  1. #1 CK Loo
    August 7, 2006

    You should have framed your research proposal in terms of repairing hearing loss resulting from battle noise or something. You probably would have been categorized into one of the roadmap projects. And really, cochlear hair cell regeneration would help soldiers who have damaged their hearing through combat.

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    August 7, 2006

    Yeah, I *actually* did sort of imply something along those lines. Pretty much anything I even thought might help me, well it went in.

  3. #3 Robert P
    August 7, 2006

    The biodefense bullshit just makes my blood boil. We should no more accept funding from them to combat anthrax than we would to research Intelligent Design. Republican driven initiatives are created to drive profits and for fear-mongering – not to advance science.

  4. #4 Paul Atreides
    August 7, 2006

    I hope you get funded!
    Good luck.

  5. #5 Robster
    August 7, 2006

    If only I could explain breast cancer as a pressing national security issue. Good luck.

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    August 7, 2006

    Robster, maybe you could get a goodwill check from Hooters. 🙂

  7. #7 CK Loo
    August 7, 2006

    I’ve never understood the whole process of deciding who should get funding or not. It always seems to me to be a crap shoot. I’ve heard of the most ridiculous projects getting funded while projects that seem to have real merit (sometimes even practical merit) fall to the wayside.

    I’ve almost come to the point that the next time I have to write a grant application I’m going to propose to do the stupidest thing that I can think of.

  8. #8 Robster
    August 8, 2006

    Hmmm. Hooters. Yeah. And I’ll include a mention of chicken wings as an antioxident… Thanks, Shelley!

    Actually, that reminds me of a meeting I went to several years ago. A colleague and I were talking about our work with a couple of female researchers, and when they asked what kind of cancer we were working with, we replied, “Breast.” They thanked us, and said that they were working on prostate cancer, for which we returned the sentiment.

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