NIH Imposes Limitations to Individual Grants
On May 2nd, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to limit grant funds for individual researchers . The change has been met with both support and resistance from researchers . Some praise it while others worry the policy will divert funding from important research and make research more difficult for new scientists, who already face challenges when trying to obtain grants . According to the new system, the NIH will assign a certain number of points to each grant based on its size and complexity, with a limit of 21 points, which is approximately equivalent to three individual research grants (RO1 grants) .
The NIH enacted the plan in response to the increasing competition for grants, which has been cutthroat since the drop in NIH’s budget in 2003. The competition was previously addressed by Congress by the 21st Century Cures Act, which aimed to help early-career researchers . In 2016, there were over 30,000 applications for RO1 grants and only 6,010 were given out . Now, additional money could support 1,600 new grants . NIH director Francis Collins stated that the NIH will make sure “that the funds we are given are producing the best results from our remarkable scientific workforce” . The extra funds will be directed to younger applicants . Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research, stated that special steps will be taken to identify “meritorious applicants who are only one grant away from losing all funding” .
Although the policy was created to support young start-up researchers and those with struggling labs, the plan has been met with opposition . Some believe that hyper-competitiveness will continue to increase and that the system promotes the notion of a “one-size fits all” policy that can be dangerous in the medical community . For example, Joanne Flynn of the University of Pittsburgh is concerned that the policy will decrease collaboration necessary for research like hers . Flynn, who developed a rare monkey model of tuberculosis, explained that because many labs lack the resources to manage sick animals, collaboration is a vital part of a lot of research .
However, not all scientists have a negative outlook on the new policy. Jonathan Sessler, a chemist at the University of Texas, Austin, predicts that chemists will face little impact and noted that many chemists already consider themselves lucky to have any NIH funding whatsoever . Sessler believes that the fifth grant of a top scientist is not as likely to involve revolutionary research as the first grant of a new researcher who is using their best idea .
The scientific community appears to be taking a cautiously hopeful approach to the policy, recognizing the need for change. For example, research shows that if lab receives over three grants, productivity actually decreases and also puts young scientists at a disadvantage because they are more likely to go unrecognized in a large lab . Howard Garrison, deputy executive director at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, says the change will be “a career saver, a life saver” . NIH is currently deciding how to respond to grants shared among multiple investigators, and how researchers over the threshold can lower their total number of grants to stay under the maximum of 21 points .
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Kaiser, Jocelyn. "NIH to Impose Grant Cap to Free up Funds for More Investigators." Sciencemag.org. Science Magazine, 3 May 2017. Web. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/nih-impose-grant-cap-free-funds-more-investigators
Widener, Andrea. "NIH Will Limit Scientists' Grants." Cen.org. Chemical & Engineering News, 4 May 2017. Web. http://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i19/NIH-limit-scientists-three-grants.html