NIH Seeks Research Community Feedback on Grant Support Index

May 3, 2017 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

lab-work_lgThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next few months will be seeking feedback from the scientific community on a new approach to grant funding aimed at optimizing stewardship of taxpayer dollars called the Grant Support Index. According to NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the initiative aims to “take advantage of new and powerful ways to assess the effectiveness of NIH research investments to be sure that the funds we are given are producing the best results from our remarkable scientific workforce.”

In recent years, NIH has noted that the biomedical research workforce is “dangerously out of balance.” While NIH has attempted to reverse the decline in grant funding to early-career investigators through various programs and policies, the percentage of NIH awards that support this group remains flat. In addition, the gains for early-career investigators has been offset by a decline in the percentage of NIH awards that support mid-career investigators. The only group for which the percentage of grant funding is increasing is late-career investigators.

Also, the distribution of NIH grant funding is uneven, as 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receive more than 40 percent of NIH funding. Analyses conducted by both NIH and others has shown that incremental research output gradually diminishes as the amount of support per investigator increases. Essentially, the more principal investigators must manage in terms of additional projects, personnel and grant applications, the less additional time they have to dedicate to their research.  Thus, the incremental benefit in productivity starts to decline.

“This is an important new insight,” Collins noted. “And because scientific discovery is inherently unpredictable, there are reasons to believe that supporting more researchers working on a diversity of biomedical problems, rather than concentrating resources in a smaller number of labs, might maximize the number of important discoveries that can emerge from the science we support and thus, returns on the taxpayers’ investments.”

Therefore, NIH has developed an initiative in which it would work with NIH grant applicants and recipients to limit the total NIH grant support provided to an individual principal investigator through NIH-supported research. Called the Grant Support Index (GSI), this initiative is a measure of grant support that does not solely focus on grant money, since differing areas of research incur differing levels of cost. Instead, GSI assigns a point value to the various kinds of grants based on type, complexity and size. While implementation of a GSI limit is estimated to affect only about 6 percent of NIH-funded investigators, Collins said NIH expects that, depending on the details of the implementation, it would free up about 1,600 new awards to broaden the pool of investigators conducting NIH research and improve the stability of the enterprise.

Because of the complexities of this index, NIH will be working with the scientific community of the next several months to determine how to best implement the GSI. For those research universities, here’s your chance to let your concerns be heard. NIH is taking this seriously, as noted in a recent lengthy blog post by Dr. Michael Lauer, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research. It will be interesting to see how this initiative takes shape and what assistance it provides to the research community.

Let us know your reaction to the Grant Support Index and what influence it may have.

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