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The Importance of NIH Grants

For almost 1.5 centuries now, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) has been leading the battle against diseases by funding hundreds of thousands of research grants. Thus, the NIH makes progress in widely disparate health sectors such as heart disease, cancer, mental illness, and numerous other public health concerns. Over the years, NIH-funded scientists have been awarded with recognition of their research, including several Nobel Prizes. Therefore, it is quite evident that NIH grants have immense importance for all researchers, especially those seeking tenure or career advancement.

What is the NIH Grant Program?

The NIH traces its origins back to the 1870s, when Congress began allocating funds for research into various infectious diseases (smallpox, cholera, etc.) to the newly found “National Board of Health.” In 1930, the name was officially changed to the National Institute of Health, after which Congress increased its funding tremendously. The NIH finances the original and historically oldest grant program called the Research Project Grant (R01) in order to provide funding support toward individual laboratories, following the mission of the NIH. As with other grants, the R01 can be solicited, by individual NIH centers or institutes, or may be investigator-initiated, through application requests. To be eligible for specific research funding announcements (RFAs), the applicants must comply according to the guidelines specified by the RFA for the distinct NIH Institute or Center (“I/Cs,”currently 27 in total). Usually, the NIH grant is awarded for providing support to discrete, specific, and constrained projects performed by an investigator, based on the mission of the NIH. R01 awards vary in duration from 3-5 years, with a current average size of ~$475,000, although in nominal dollars, that figure is the smallest award amount since 1999.

What Are the Scopes of NIH Grants?

As mentioned, thew NIH covers I/Cs that support specific health­related research missions. Nearly all those I/Cs offer numerous mechanisms of funding, including the R01 grant and the R21, designed for more “high-risk/high reward” proposed projects. Multi-institution, cross-disciplinary grants (“U01” or “P series” awards) are also offered, often to study different aspects of a single disease/organ system. Once a research grant application has been submitted, it passes through the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), as a gateway for distribution to the most appropriate I/Cs, for eventual review by “study sections,” i.e., specific panels of nationwide experts in the topics of the applications to be considered.

More recently, the NIH has developed a focus on research directly relevant to specific disease patients, i.e., “translational” medical research. For grants focusing on basic science (not disease-related), the National Science Foundation (NSF) might be a more appropriate agency for seeking funding.  Despite the funding agency or mechanism, NIH grant awards will likely continue to be a “measuring stick” for departmental decisions regarding tenure or other types of career advancement. Due to actual loss of funding over the last 15 years, in nominal dollars, fewer grants are awarded and competition has burgeoned.  Success rates vary widely by I/C, from 11.6% from the National Institute of Nursing Research, to 26.7% at the National Eye Institute. The overall success rate has fallen, from 27.1% in 2001, to 16.3%, in 2015.  

Approvable Costs Sanctioned by the NIH Grants

The NIH grants approve many allowable costs including research equipment and supplies, consultation costs, publications, and renovations costs, consortium costs, administrative costs along with monthly salary and fringe benefits. Within the NIH grant, travel expenses are also included in relation for the research works.

Importance of Writing the NIH Grant Proposal

Academic success and medicinal promotion massively depend on the quality and number of grants received by the researchers. Every year, a large number of research scholars apply for NIH-sponsored grants and the hard truth is that only few of them are selected for funding. There is no doubt that award of an NIH grant is a matter of great prestige and honor for the applicant and his/her institute. However, one needs to remember that writing a grant application is a daunting task, especially for the inexperienced researchers (a general guideline is 4-6 weeks). Hence, the applicant should properly set forth to organize a research proposal such that they can maximize the chance of success. Hiring a grant consultant may likely facilitate this process, as these individuals are familiar with the review process, the general outlay of various types of research applications, and making the proposal more “reader-friendly” to the reviewers.