No Child Left Behind….The Importance of Secondary Funding

No Child Left Behind….The Importance of Secondary Funding

No Child Left Behind….The Importance of Secondary Funding 150 150 Joedance Film Festival


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This week Tony brings to light important information regarding the lack of governmental funding for pediatric cancer. Advancements in better treatments with better outcomes come directly from private funding and donations to make real change happen.

Warning: Hello everyone, it’s Tony again here to let you know that this blog post will once again not be written by the more linguistically inclined twin. Apologies in advance. This week on Tony’s journey through cancer research we will briefly talk about the largest source of funding in basicbiomedical research, the NIH, and how important secondary sources of funding for pediatric cancer is for researchers. Side note: I am currently in the middle of writing my grant proposal for a NIH fellowship (think of it like the kid’s meal version of an NIH grant).

A quick overview on the NIH and government grants for biomedical research. The NIH is divided into 27 institutes, each overseeing a particular area of biomedical research and study, with almost all of cancer research projects funded through the National Cancer Institute. Arguably the most impactful and important grant that researchers apply for is called an R01 grant, which provides a large amount of funding to a proposed project for between 4 to 5 years.

How hard is it to get these grants? Great question!

According to the NIH, their funding success rate for applicants is 20%. If we break that down by institute, the funding success rate for the NCI is about 11%. Let’s look at two key aspects of the funding process: the grant awarding process and the funding of the NIH and how that impacts grant funding.

NIH grants are scored by reviewers, a panel of experts in the field, based on several criteria, including a research plan, possible impact of research, and the research history of the individual, or individuals, who proposes the grant project.

According to the NIH, only 4% of the NCI’s research budget funds studies focused on pediatric cancers.

This leads us into our second consideration: the funding of the NIH. While NIH funding has increased steadily of the last decade, when corrected for inflation the NIH budget has decreased. Furthermore, since the NIH is part of the department of Health and Human Services, its budget is determined by the government, meaning that the NIH budget can get slashed by Congress at any time for any reason. Additionally, due to finite resources, the NIH wants to get the highest return on their investments, and thus take into consideration the prevalence of diseases being researched. I am sure it would not shock you to learn that there are more adults diagnosed with cancer than children, however this also correlates to potential funding of cancer research.

According to the NIH, only 4% of the NCI’s research budget funds studies focused on pediatric cancers.

Breast cancer research received almost 12% of the NCI’s research budget.

Taken together, an uncomfortable picture easily emerges. Due to the criteria the NIH uses to rank grants for funding, the increasing pressure on researchers to acquire NIH funding early on in their careers, and the low level of funding for pediatric cancer research from the NIH, it is risky for researchers to pursue this area of cancer research. The culture of funding at the NIH pushes researchers into pursuing highly funded fields of research and impedes potential studies into areas of research with narrower funding opportunities. Furthermore, due to these focuses the population of pediatricians trained as scientists has diminished as well. PhDs and MD/PhDs are less likely to enter a field of research where funding is uncertain.

This is why non-governmental funding sources, like Joedance, are so important and valuable to researchers.

While pediatric cancers receive a small fraction of the NCI funding budget, nearly half, or about $175 million dollars, of pediatric cancer funding comes from non-profit organizations. We know from the history of diseases like HIV/AIDS that funding research saves lives. Without sources of funding, research can’t be conducted. Without research being conducted, treatment and survival can’t be improved. While the NIH is a vital source of funding, receiving NIH grants can be time consuming and repetitive, and many, including members of the NIH, argue that its structure is flawed, but it is not the only avenue for researchers to gain support. Every day we can assist in progressing the field forward, with giving patients a little more hope.

It’s a responsibility to show these patients, these physicians, and these researchers that their work and their struggle matters. It’s a responsibility we take on every day.

Sources:

Daniels RJ. A generation at risk: young investigators and the future of the biomedical workforce. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jan 13;112(2):313-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1418761112. Epub 2015 Jan 5. PMID: 25561560; PMCID: PMC4299207.

Kamath SD, Kircher SM, Benson AB. Comparison of Cancer Burden and Nonprofit Organization Funding Reveals Disparities in Funding Across Cancer Types. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2019 Jul 1;17(7):849-854. doi: 10.6004/jnccn.2018.7280. PMID: 31319386.

Germain RN. Healing the NIH-Funded Biomedical Research Enterprise. Cell. 2015 Jun 18;161(7):1485-91. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.05.052. PMID: 26091028; PMCID: PMC4495897.

Alberts B, Kirschner MW, Tilghman S, Varmus H. Opinion: Addressing systemic problems in the biomedical research enterprise. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 17;112(7):1912-3. doi:10.1073/pnas.1500969112. PMID: 25691698; PMCID: PMC4343141.