On June 25, 2008, the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation received a letter from Sujata Sarkar, MD, one of the first recipients of the ACR REF/Arthritis Foundation Bridge Funding Award. In that letter Dr. Sarkar wrote, “I am very thankful to you … This award has come to me at a very crucial and vulnerable time in my academic career as a junior researcher.” The crucial and vulnerable time to which Dr. Sarkar refers is the time when she would need to search for alternative funding to pay for her rheumatology research career—or leave academia altogether.
While at the University of Michigan, and under the direction of ACR President David Fox, MD, Dr. Sarkar submitted an application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a clinical scientist development, or K08, award for her project, “Regulation of autoimmunity by IL-4 through suppression of IL-17.” Her application received a highly competitive priority score but was not funded because of recent federal budget cuts.
It was then that she relocated with her family to Arizona, where she took the position of assistant professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Although Dr. Sarkar was supported by the Arizona Arthritis Center—directed by Salvatore Albani, MD, PhD—as well as the section of rheumatology—led by Jeffrey Lisse, MD—and had laboratory space on campus, she was forced to consider other career alternatives because she had not received the NIH funding. She considered private practice, which she felt allowed more stability, but that meant she would have to leave academia, where her passion lies. “I hate to say it, but it does come up when you have to consider your choices,” she says.
It was at that pivotal moment when Dr. Sarkar received the request for proposals for the ACR REF/AF Bridge Funding Award, which was designed specifically to give exceptional junior researchers like Dr. Sarkar funding so they can continue down their path to becoming independent researchers. “It was an immense relief when I received notification of the award,” she explains. “Now I can pick up my momentum and resubmit my [K08] application.”
Dr. Sarkar has a passion for research and now, because of the Bridge Funding Award, she does not need to switch her career path. She is currently preparing her resubmission to the NIH and is also applying for another award, the new REF Rheumatology Investigator Award.
For more information about REF funding opportunities, please visit www.rheumatology.org/REF.