Medical School sees spike in NIH grants

Despite fierce competition, more than 100 Yale researchers have received nearly $40 million in two-year grants from the National Institutes of Health, courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Nearly 70 percent of the funding — about $32 million — has been allocated to scientists at the Yale School of Medicine, which has been receiving an unprecedented funding influx since early this summer. The grant allocations come at a time of aggressive growth and expansion at the medical school, which for the past year has been luring top recruits from peer institutions into leadership positions with large recruitment allowances.

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“The biggest thing going on at the medical school has been the increase in the NIH grants,” Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said. “It has really been tremendous.”

Competition for the NIH grants has been stiff as the recession has caused grant funding from nongovernmental sources to dry up, but Yale has been holding its own. Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Yale School of Medicine No. 1 in terms of most NIH dollars obtained per faculty member.

Approximately 20,000 researchers applied for the challenge grants and only the top 1 to 2 percent will be funded. While the NIH has not yet announced any of the challenge grant recipients, Alpern said he has heard unofficially from NIH officials that the medical school will be receiving at least $20 million worth of two-year challenge grants.

“We’ve competed pretty well,” he said. “A lot of schools have completed a lot of grant applications [for these funds].”

And the most exciting news, Alpern said, is yet to come.

For even though medical researchers have already garnered more than $32 million in NIH stimulus funding, the largest and most prestigious grants the school is likely to receive have not yet been announced, though administrators at the school of medicine say they have received preliminary notification of the coming allocations, he said.

Most of the grants that have been announced are small — ranging from about $9,000 to $600,000 per year — but they are numerous. The larger, “more exciting” awards, which will be announced by Sept. 30, will fall into three main categories: construction, larger equipment purchases and especially competitive research grants called “challenge grants,” Alpern explained.

Yale Cancer Center Director Thomas Lynch said the NIH has had an incredibly short period of time to evaluate many more applications than usual. As a result, he said, the distribution process has caused a bureaucratic logjam.

All $10.4 billion of the NIH’s stimulus funding must be allocated by the end of this month and must be utilized within the next two years.

In a normal year, Alpern said it could take as many as four months for grant funds to become available once they have been approved. But due to the speed with which the stimulus money must be put to work, he said the turnaround time for activating the funds is now just a few weeks.

For example, in the Department of Neurobiology, assistant professor James Mazer, who is using his two-year grant to study visual attention, said he was able to draw on his nearly $400,000 of stimulus funding just two weeks after he learned he would be receiving it.

Since 1991, the Yale School of Medicine’s yearly NIH grant funding has been progressively increasing. In 2008, the school received $330 million in grants from the NIH.

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