Is This the Future of Research Funding?

October 18, 2015

The never ending quest to obtain funding for scientific research just got more difficult for a lot of scientists. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is taking steps to radically change the way it funds cardiology studies, making the move to allocate money to fewer studies with a deeper reach. The agency is confronting the reality that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on trials that are not large enough to show results worthy of publication, let alone eventual changes in the way medicine treats heart disease. But it’s also a reaction to the apparent waste of funds on studies whose results never see the light of day.

The move has come a few years after Dr Michael Lauer, a cardiologist and deputy director of extramural research at NIH, asked for data regarding the $2 billion spent on over 200 clinical trials over the course of a decade. He was shocked to find that over 50% of the study results were not published within 30 months of study completion and two out of five were never made public.

“If a research study is never published it is as if it never happened.” says Dr Lauer.

Generally, carrying out several small studies is less expensive than completing one large one. However, the NIH appears determined to focus on funding those studies that may have real-world or life-and-death consequences. It will also require large studies to cost less, often reducing the number of questions researchers are trying to answer with their thesis.

Though this decision is currently affecting cardiology research, it’s possible the same will happen in other fields of research, as the NIH has seen its allocation of funds from the U.S. government reduced by 20% in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2006.

This will mean real uncertainty for small research projects looking at a tiny piece of the heart disease puzzle. Additionally, this new criteria could influence the funding of small studies across the spectrum of science. What about the high-risk, high-gain studies that, by definition, can only be carried out on small numbers? Will the U.S. lose it’s edge in innovating science? Will other countries follow suit or take a different approach?

Read the entire New York Times  article here.

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