Med school sees large number of stimulus grants

The Medical School’s stimulus grant applications made up half the total sent in by the University.

by Jessica Van Berkel

The University of Minnesota Medical School has received 84 stimulus grants, the largest number of awards to any of the UniversityâÄôs colleges. The number of grants received has almost doubled since the beginning of September, with new awards arriving daily. The new grants total $36 million, a 15 percent increase on the schoolâÄôs yearly average of $200 million in National Institutes of Health grants, Medical School Executive Vice Dean Mark Paller said. The Institute of Technology has received about $53 million, but has half the number of projects as the Medical School. The Medical School and its faculty sent in 418 applications for the stimulus funding, and responses began arriving in December 2008. Proposals from the Medical School accounted for half of the UniversityâÄôs grant applications. The funded projects span the medical field. They range from smaller research grants to a possible $10 million to $15 million building renovation, which the school may receive in February, Paller said. Large grants can include up to a dozen people, Paller said. Dr. James Neaton, a biostatistics professor, received $1.5 million to study HIV using a collection of stored blood, and to extract DNA from the blood to create a DNA repository. He said the project employs people from across the United States. Someone pulls the blood samples from a repository in New Jersey, major analysis is done in a lab in Vermont and the University handles the other aspects of the study, including the biostatistics and coordination. Other projects have a wide breadth within the University. A project to create a personal health research network involves professors and deans from the schools of nursing, dentistry and Institute for Health Informatics. Julie Jacko, director of the Institute for Health Informatics, is the principal investigator and said the group applied for the funding in June and received the funding at the end of September. To get funding, applications undergo a peer review where a study group scores the applications based on scientific merit. Paller said most University professors who receive National Institutes of Health funds also participate in reviewing other grants. âÄúItâÄôs kind of an unstated obligation that not only you receive from the NIH, you give to the NIH,âÄù he said. About one-third of the applications make it through the review and are passed on to advisory councils from the NIH institute or center which would supply funding. Councils also include representatives from the disease-affected community, such as a cancer survivor or their parent, NIH Center for Scientific Review spokesperson Don Luckett said. Projects from universities receive a large percent of the NIH funding, Luckett said. But small businesses, non-profits and other centers also compete for funding. Paller said the proposals have about a 10 percent chance of receiving funding, but the University may have done a little better than that. The University has been third nationally in the rate of growth of general grant acquisition over the past four years. âÄúWeâÄôve been outdoing [our peers] … one would hope we competed at that same kind of level for these stimulus grants,âÄù Paller said.