You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueOctober 2007
Consequences of Disappearing Federal Funds
- Decreases in advances in the understanding of human disease and the development of diagnostic tools and therapies;
- Loss of highly skilled and trained personnel due to career changes and dissolution of research teams; and
- Fewer individuals selecting careers in biomedical research.
Biomedical Belt Tightening
Reasons for this tightening biomedical budget include a ballooning federal deficit; 3% to 5% annual inflation in biomedical research costs; a political mandate that has shifted towards military, defense, and security spending; and an increased demand for grant funding. Indeed, there has been an explosive growth in grant applications. In 1998, the NIH received 24,000 grant applications, while in 2006 it received 46,000. Average grant sizes have also grown substantially and, because Congress stopped increasing the NIH budget, its buying power has fallen significantly.
A shift in the allocation of NIH dollars has significantly decreased the percentage of NIH budget devoted to independent investigators. From 1998 to 2005, there was almost a 6% decrease in the percentage of the total NIH budget that went to independent investigator grants. While it is unclear what the balance should be between shifting funds to multi-center projects (including multi-center clinical trials or genome projects) and maintaining adequate independent-investigator research, it is important to remember that the main force that drives translational research and clinical trials is the independent investigator.
Importantly, it is the independent investigator who trains the next generation of researchers. Decreased funding success leads to a loss of competitiveness and sends a disheartening message to potential future generations of researchers. Fewer graduate students and subspecialty fellows might elect to remain in academia as the number of potential role models decreases. A new investigator missing the pay line after several attempts can end a potentially promising career and waste the costly investment of training a young scientist. New investigators are particularly hurt by the budget situation. For example, the average age at first RO1 grant is now 42, up from 34 in 1980. At that time, approximately 25% of RO1 grants went to researchers younger than 35, while today it is approximately 4%. This causes problems in faculty recruitment, retention, and renewal.
While national defense spending has reached close to $1,600 per capita, federal spending for biomedical research amounts to approximately $97 per capita.
These trends are quite ominous for the future of U.S. research. Most biomedical research innovation typically comes from young researchers working in small and mobile research groups. The vitality of these young investigators must be preserved at all costs. The factors mentioned above have made careers in biomedical research increasingly unattractive for young people. We must assure that a new generation of scientists obtains adequate resources to carry on the research. Unfortunately, NIH training grants, a major source of support for postdoctoral and clinical fellows during their research experience, have also been affected. Trainees might opt for other career paths as a result, further decreasing the pipeline of future investigators.