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Explore This IssueOctober 2009
Influx of New Money
From the standpoint of investigators, the biggest plus was the influx of more money into a research system sorely underfunded in recent years. “There is no question that during the last few years, virtually every institute was faced with unreasonably low cutoff points and there was a backlog of superb science going unfunded,” says Dr. Rosenbaum. “As a reviewer, I dreaded every time we got together, knowing that only about one request in eight would see any money. I am unhappy because the funding is for only two years, but thrilled because I would have gotten no money without the ARRA.”
Overall, those interviewed for this article were pleased with the work of NIAMS and other NIH institutes getting the program up and running under an extremely tight deadline.
“The NIH generated a very impressive list of topics with very good relevance to translational research and patient care,” says Mary Crow, MD, director of rheumatology research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “They did an amazing job and it was certainly a pleasure to see grant money become available.”
The NIH generated a very impressive list of topics with very good relevance to translational research and patient care.
—Mary Crow, MD
The big question asked by all the experts is: “What happens next?” Will there be a big monetary black hole when the two years is up, or will other grant programs fill the void?
“Nobody knows the answer to the ‘What is next?’ question,” says Kathryn Liszewski, a research scientist in rheumatology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “We are hopeful, but also feel uncertain. As the economy improves, one could consider that standard funding levels would improve, too. It is an open question for now.”
Dr. Lovell wonders whether the advances coming from ARRA funding will be sustained after the two years of funding end. “The critical piece is, Can all of these developments and new consortiums and syndicates being set up be transitioned and continue to operate after the ARRA grants expire?” he says. “Funding needs to rise on a long-term basis above what it has been recently. We are currently funding only 3 to 5% of the submissions. It is a tragedy because probably many of the grant applications could result in important or worthwhile findings.”
In addition, the two-year grants mean that the search for money to continue projects begins almost immediately. “Writing of the grant alone is a commitment of labor and time,” says Dr. Rosenbaum. “From the time a proposal is submitted until you hear about funding is usually eight or nine months. With these two-year grants, you are going to have start looking for additional money after the first year. Establishing tangible evidence of scientific productivity that quickly will be ulcerogenic.” He is also concerned about the human infrastructure put in place by the ARRA. If funding falls back to 2008 levels, he wonders if the jobs created for everyone from investigators to laboratory technicians can be sustained through other funding sources.