NIH cuts could hit U researchers

The Medical School received $141 million in NIH grants in 2010; that number could drop this year.

Kyle Potter

The University of Minnesota Medical School raked in $141 million in research grants last year from the National Institutes of Health, but as an economic recovery sputters, the forecast for next year looks less promising.
The UniversityâÄôs 2010 total put the school 29th out of 134 medical schools across the country, and third in the Big Ten, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, which compiled the data.
The average for 2010 grants was about $88 million, BRIMR reported. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore topped the list with about $439 million.
BRIMR releases an annual ranking of schools that top the nation in attracting funding from the NIH, the largest source of funding for medical research in the world.
But given the budget crisis, it may be harder for medical schools to better their funding situation in years to come.
With a congressional attempt to revert federal spending back to 2008 levels, the NIH is set to lose about $2 billion from its budget, which was $31 billion in 2010.
For schools like the University, where NIH grants make up about 80 percent of the Medical SchoolâÄôs research budget, such a cut could mean fewer grants and less money for researchers who receive them.
âÄúWithout [these grants], we wouldnâÄôt be doing significant research. ThereâÄôs really no replacement for it,âÄù Executive Vice Dean Mark Paller said.
The UniversityâÄôs $141 million total does not include about $36 million in grants awarded as part of the federal stimulus package, despite the fact that much of those funds were distributed in 2010, Paller said.
Despite potential cuts in the future, Dr. Aaron Friedman, dean of the Medical School and vice president for health sciences, said heâÄôll use the ranking to inspire improvement in the future.
âÄúWeâÄôre in a lot better position than we were a decade and a half ago, and I think that itâÄôs fair to expect to be able to do even better,âÄù Friedman said.
The keys to attracting more funds, especially with budget cuts on the horizon, lie in encouraging research across the different schools at the University and in recruiting more new faculty, Paller said.
If thereâÄôs one consolation for Paller, itâÄôs that he and his colleagues wonâÄôt be the only researchers feeling the funding pinch.
âÄúThe pieâÄôs not getting any bigger,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs just a matter of how you split it.âÄù
Four Largest Grants From 2010
âÄúCancer Center Support GrantâÄù
Amount: $3,810,624
Principal Investigator: Douglas Yee

The UniversityâÄôs Masonic Cancer Center receives this support grant every year from the National Cancer Institute, a division of the NIH, which reviews cancer centers every five years for accreditation. MCC will keep getting the grant until its next review in 2013.
âÄúItâÄôs really an acknowledgment that youâÄôre already doing a substantial amount of funded cancer research,âÄù MCC Director Douglas Yee said.
The support grant helps primarily with collaboration between disciplines throughout the University to tackle cancer, Yee said.
âÄúAntihypertensive Treatment of Acute Cerebral Hemorrhage âÄî IIâÄù
Amount: $3,229,538
Principal Investigator: Adnan Qureshi

With a team that includes  researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and the division of the NIH that researches brain and nervous system disorders, Qureshi is using this money to research the role blood-pressure medication may have in treating acute cerebral hemorrhages âÄî a common cause of strokes.
âÄúA Compartmental Analysis of HIV Reservoirs and Immune ReconstitutionâÄù
Amount: $2,425,674
Principal Investigator: Timothy Schacker

Dr. SchackerâÄôs research focuses on pinpointing strongholds of HIV in the body and how they inhibit the immune system and prevent successful treatment.
The goal is to find a treatment strategy that could curb the replication of HIV.
âÄúBiology and Transplantation of the Human Stem CellâÄù
Amount: $2,228,606
Principal Investigator: Philip McGlave

This research is primarily concerned with stem cells that are used to create blood cells. McGlave and other researchers hope to find a treatment combating a variety of lethal diseases.