March 26, 2010

NIH urges investigators to finish research on time

NIH urges investigators to finish research on time

Speed is of the essence.

That's the message from the National Institutes of Health to researchers around the country, including more than 150 at Vanderbilt University, who have received NIH stimulus grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The grants will provide more than $76 million to Vanderbilt researchers over the next two years to purchase major new equipment, hire additional staff and make significant progress on a host of biomedical research projects.

But while researchers can take an extra year to complete their projects (without additional federal funds), any additional extensions will require prior NIH approval, and those requests will be considered only “in very limited circumstances,” the NIH said last week.

That's because “the primary goals of all NIH Recovery Act awards are to create U.S. jobs and increase the tempo of biomedical research,” the advisory said.

Determining the number of jobs created or retained due to NIH stimulus grants is easier said than done.

Instead of simply reporting the number of people involved in a study funded by a stimulus grant, researchers must figure out the percentage of time that each individual actually works on the study. Thus, if 10 people in a lab each spend 10 percent of their day engaged in Recovery Act-funded research, that's one full-time equivalent (FTE) position — not 10.

As of Jan. 31, 121 FTEs had been created or retained at Vanderbilt due to NIH stimulus grants. And while that does not sound like a huge return on a $76 million investment, those are only preliminary figures.

In addition, the equipment purchased, the labs expanded and the data generated, thanks to the two years of stimulus funding, will enable many of the researchers to compete successfully for future grants that they otherwise might not have been able to obtain.

This is what is meant by increasing the “tempo” of biomedical research.

Here is how some Vanderbilt researchers have described the impact of stimulus funding.

Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., MPH, is using her $978,000 grant to study how soy and tea can prevent endometrial cancer in women in her native China.

“With the stimulus we are able to continue (the research),” Shu told the Tennessean last August. “We hope that what we learn can be introduced into the American market and help prevent endometrial cancer.”

Vanderbilt chemist John McLean, Ph.D., physicist John Wikswo, Ph.D., and their colleagues are using their $2.7 million grant to determine whether white blood cells retain chemical memories of exposure to drugs like cocaine.

The study could help improve drug testing and treatment. Even more than that, Wikswo told the Vanderbilt News Service last fall, the grant “is allowing us to train a new generation of scientists and engineers.”

For more information, contact Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D., in the VUMC Office of Grants & Contracts Management at or 6-0007, or John Childress, director of the Division of Sponsored Research, at or 2-3977.