Having viable funding opportunities for early career investigators is vital for sustaining a cadre of researchers interested in studying and advancing any field of medicine. This is of particular concern in nephrology where NIH funding for kidney disease research lags behind many other chronic diseases. A recent analysis reported in ASN Kidney News determined that the NIH invests about $30 per patient in kidney-related research compared to almost $2600 for HIV/AIDS and $500 per patient in cancer research. Compounding this problem is the trend of young researchers leaving biomedical research careers to pursue other opportunities. A recent editorial published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Ronald Daniels, President of Johns Hopkins University, paints a grim situation with regards to funding young researchers. In 1983, 18% of R01 funded principal investigators were 36 years old or younger. This has plummeted to ~3% in 2010. The average age when an MD or MD/PhD gets their first R01 was ~38 in 1980, and now has increased to ~45 in 2013. These trends make the prospect of staying funded a significant challenge for young researchers interested in maintaining a career in research.
As a means of supporting young investigators in nephrology, Satellite Healthcare (a not-for-profit dialysis organization) founded a grant program aimed at funding this group of investigators. Ikizler et al, in a recent AJKD original investigation, report the history and successes of the Norman S. Coplon Extramural Grant Program, named after the founder. This grant program began in 2000 with a “goal of enabling young researchers to undertake clinical or basic research projects related to the diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease.” The program’s aim is to support young investigators, and a major goal is to provide bridge funding during the transition toward an independent career in research. The award is for $100,000 per year for a maximum of two years. The program provides up to eight grants annually.
The success of this program has been remarkable. The program has funded a total of 80 awards for an aggregate ~$11 million. 93% of funded investigators have maintained full-time appointments in academic institutions, including division chiefs and fellowship program directors. The group of investigators has also sustained their productivity, receiving ~$140 million of NIH/VA funding. The publishing track record is impressive as well, with ~130 manuscripts directly from funded projects and ~1000 total publications in prestigious journals.
The Norman S. Coplon Extramural Grant Program represents a beacon of light to young nephrology researchers. My hope is that other private institutes will see this success and similarly invest in nephrology research as well.
Dr. Matt Sparks
AJKD Blog Advisory Board member