Yes Virginia, there is non-NIH money

Jun 19 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

I think the majority of my (US-based) scientist friends, and perhaps even you, Dear Reader, work in biomedical sciences of some sort or another. From early in our training we learn of the mystical edifice that is The National Institutes of Health. The NIH, as we endearingly know it, is the major funder of most *biomedical* science in the US, and its coveted R01 research award is key to success, promotion and tenure. M'Learn'd Colleagues  PhysioProf and DrugMonkey are well funded and write with authority on the complexities of applying for, receiving and renewing NIH research dollars.

In addition, M'Learn'd Colleagues Gerty-Z and Dr. Becca, among others, have recently written of their experiences in beginning to negotiate these treacherous waters.

It is worthy and vital to note that the NIH funds *biomedical research*. This is broadly applied, but vital. If you're working on other basic processes in the Life Sciences you are more likely to apply to the NIH's red-headed stepchild The National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF has a broader remit (and a much smaller budget), and funds non-biomedical research. M'Learn'd Colleagues Prof-Like Substance and Odyssey both enjoy the fruits of the NSF money-tree, and can be relied on for wisdom and council with regards the mores of the NSF application.

[Note added in proof - for brevity I'm not going into any of the detail about NIH vs. NSF and this "biomedical science" malarkey. It's complex, and can be read about elsewhere. See Prof-Like for e.g.]

But what of those of us that work on the applied fringes of biomedical research? As a biomedical informaticist I have two options - Option A) Piggy-back on other folks grants to seek the salary coverage afforded by providing core databasing services, or B) Apply for my own funding to cover the development of novel systems and providing databasing services. This latter is much harder for reasons I will explain in another post, and is also, alas, not really an option for me. I am not allowed to apply for my own funding as a Principle Investigator (PI). This was part of the contract offered to me when I accepted the position. It has pros and cons and, again, that's fodder for another post. (FWIW, and for those who understand such jargon, I am allowed to Co-I as long as my FTE is under 10%/project. I am a Co-I on a NIH-funded DB/PC/RCT R01 right now. Which is nice.)

So, most of the grant writing I do (and I do a lot) falls under Option A - convincing our faculty they should use a CFR21pt11, HIPAA, FISMA, HITECH & FIPS140-2 compliant and validated database for their data warehousing. And when you frame it like that it's actually fairly easy to convince them it's a good idea. Funding agencies like to see you've thought your shit out and covered your ass on any weak spots, and professional database protection and software design is a fairly common weak spot. We have the added advantage that as a core facility at the University, we are non-profit (as it were) so I can charge much less than my for-profit competitors for these services. I need only salary coverage - no mark-ups and no hidden fees.

In addition, because most of what we provide is *clinical* databasing we don't always have to rely on the NIH & NSF for funding. There is a world of other funding opportunities out there for those of us away from the lab bench. Most recently the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have been actively seeking proposals to help it spend a large wadge of cash. These "Innovation Awards" are competitive awards to fund cost-saving measures across a range of CMS-funded services. (Medicare & Medicaid are, essentially, the health insurance for people without health insurance. Confused yet?)

Given the awful problems my home town faces in health and racial disparities we have a large population that can be reached via CMS-funded projects so we were well placed to apply. My group was on two of three CMS-Health Care Innovation Award grant applications that went out in January, and of these three two were funded! Only one of the ones we're named on has been funded, but there is some hope that a second round of announcements will be going out later in the year, so maybe we'll get hit twice. The money arrives in October and covers 10-15% (pre-funding trim) of the salaries of myself and three of my staff. Which is nice.

In addition, the 'technology' that will result from our work will be broadly applicable across a range of health care interests so there's a great incentive to build something truly scalable here.

So, there we go. We  got another grant funded, and we've got our names on three more we expect to hear from soon - one NIH R01, another CMS grant (under a different "mechanism") and one funded by yet another non-NIH/NSF player - The National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Who knew there was so much investment in our scientific and research infrastructure huh?

6 responses so far

  • katiesci says:

    Awesome, congrats!!

  • brooksphd says:

    Cheers. Its a big multi-institute + community project so the politics and backroom pants will be bigger than the actual build part for us. I'm going to post about that side of the equation next.

    NSF & NIH PI initiated projects are often solo right? Here's *your* money Dr. Smith, go do some Science. Well, in applied/clinical stuff like we do the vested interested and number of PIs is much larger. In addition, the failrisk is bigger for the institute. People will notice if we don't meet our goals and cost-saving reductions. At my Uni, at the Fed level and at other AMCs around the country...

  • boba says:

    Principle Investigator? Unless you are studying ethics, I believe the term is Principal Investigator. Just as capital is money and the capitol is where it often comes from (or goes to) the PI is the main person in charge, someone who should have principles that do not require investigation. Which begs the question are you eligible for R03's?

  • brooksphd says:

    Damn my ethical fingers!

    Am I eligible for R03, or my group? I/we cannot PI grants right now. And to be honest, an R03 budget wouldn't do much. Not being arrogant, but if I'm committing time I need to cover that time. For now.

  • Pharm Sci Grad says:

    Congrats, congrats! I know there's a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in those words. 😉
    Any money is good money, and a steady stream of small chunks of it is a very good kind of money to have these days. 🙂

  • brooksphd says:

    Thanks P.S.G. - I'd love to have a big chunck o' change to help me relax, but I suspect I'd just end up getting panicky at renewal time. Right now we float on a rolling cloud of projects which also makes life fun and very very variable!