U seeks stimulus money for research

Federal agencies will funnel stimulus dollars into research, facility renovations and equipment purchases.

University of Minnesota researcher Peter Bitterman thinks heâÄôs found the âÄúAchilles HeelâÄù of lung cancer âÄî and federal stimulus money could help him prove it. As federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health , the largest single source of University of Minnesota research funding, have begun announcing how theyâÄôll allocate their share of stimulus money, researchers like Bitterman have gotten busy writing proposals. Bitterman is applying for a new type of NIH grant to fund his research into a potential method for stopping the growth of cancerous lung tumors. Created to help the agency spend stimulus money, the Challenge Grant program aims to address specific science challenges with a quick infusion of stimulus cash. At $10.4 billion , the NIH secured the largest stimulus allocation of the federal research funding agencies. Because they need to spend it quickly, the bulk of it will go to previously submitted grant proposals. The rest will supplement existing grants, fund special grant programs and pay for research equipment and facility renovations. The UniversityâÄôs Office of the Vice President for Research aims to help researchers get some of this funding. To that end, theyâÄôve maintained a website and list-serve to push stimulus funding information out to researchers as itâÄôs announced. Along with the NIH, other federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy were given stimulus funding for research. The most helpful thing the University has done, said Bitterman, is streamline the application process by identifying paperwork researchers donâÄôt need to do until their proposals are approved by funding agencies. The office has also set up a way to separately track stimulus funds and its website explains how research creates or preserves jobs, both of which are required for stimulus spending, said OVPR communications director John Merritt . The University has set up an internal selection process for grants that only allow a limited number of applications per school. Last Friday, biochemistry professor David Bernlohr submitted a renovation request for the OVPR to consider. HeâÄôd like to use NIH-allocated stimulus funds to remodel part of the Mayo Memorial Building parking garage so it can house a nuclear magnetic resonance research facility that, in its current location, would be impacted by Central Corridor Light Rail Transit vibrations. The University can submit up to five renovation grant applications to the NIH, and requests can vary from $1 million to $15 million. Bernlohr said his proposal could cost upwards of $10 million. The internal deadline for these requests was last Friday, and Merritt said theyâÄôve received more applications than they can submit. To avoid giving any information away to competing schools, the University wonâÄôt announce what theyâÄôve chosen to submit to funding agencies until after each grantâÄôs application deadline, Merritt said. The Challenge Grant Bitterman is hoping for is also in high-demand. The grant would provide up to $1 million over two years âÄî double the average amount provided by NIH grants âÄî but the agency is offering only about 200 of the grants nationwide, and if the University is any indication, competition will be fierce. Right now, several weeks before the application deadline, the University has 280 of these proposals in the works, Leslie Kennedy , a coordinator in the medical administration research center, said. While NIH grants are generally awarded for a five-year period, theyâÄôre asking researchers to spend stimulus dollars within two years. One concern associated with the funding influx is that it will create research jobs in the short term, but doesnâÄôt guarantee continued funding for those positions after this money is spent.