University News

NIH awards researchers $28 million

By
Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

Researchers at Brown have received over $28 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health so far in the federal government’s current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

The NIH is the largest external source of research funding at Brown, according to Vice President for Research Clyde Briant.

The highest grant went to Professor of Medical Science Constantine Gatsonis, who received over $3.7 million from the National Cancer Institute. He and others at the Center for Statistical Sciences, which he heads, will study whether molecular imaging machines can detect early responses to therapies used for brain, breast and prostate cancer patients.

“This imaging holds a lot of promise,” Gatsonis said. “Very early in the therapy process, you could see whether it is actually working.”

Gatsonis said the grant has allowed Brown to keep researchers that might otherwise have been let go in a difficult economic environment. Last month, the University announced it would cut 60 non-faculty jobs in order to cut costs.

“With this kind of funding, we have been able to hold on to positions that we would have had to let go,” he said. “And we have even added new ones.”

The University is “very happy” with this year’s funding “but would like to see the amount of sponsored funding from NIH grow in the coming years,” Briant wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

Brown faculty members have received 77 NIH grants totaling $28,290,710 so far, according to data from the Institutes’ archives, though more funding could come through by the time the fiscal year ends in September. Last fiscal year, the University received $87,593,581 in NIH funding, thanks in large part to stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Still, these numbers pale in comparison to those of Brown’s competitors. Researchers at Harvard have received over $113 million in NIH funding so far this fiscal year, about four times more than their counterparts at Brown.

“Our total research dollar numbers have been lower primarily because of our smaller size compared with many of our peers,” Briant explained. Harvard’s faculty, at around 2,100, is about three times larger than Brown’s.

President Ruth Simmons has made enhancing Brown’s research capacity one of her primary objectives in her remaining years at Brown.

“There is just no way to move the needle on Brown’s assets, reputation and rank without committing to more research productivity,” she said in her March 18 State of Brown address.

The University has formed new partnerships with other universities and hired a political consulting firm in an effort to raise its research profile and solicit more federal funding, The Herald reported last October.

Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Kim Boekelheide received just over $3 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to continue his $26 million Superfund Research Program.

The project comprises a group of scientists, doctors, engineers and government officials studying various health risks and remediation solutions for hazardous waste in Rhode Island, according to Boekelheide. The SRP has partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Management.

Funding for the program began in 2005 and was renewed through 2014 with a $15.4 million grant last year, Boekelheide said.

“The competition is really fierce for support,” Boekelheide explained, noting that NIEHS funding requests for many similar projects at other universities have been rejected.

“We have been extremely successful because we’ve done a really good job and we have demonstrated our interdisciplinary integration,” he added.

Boekelheide also just received a new, unrelated grant to study environmental impacts on fetal development.

“The intensity, interest and participation in research here is snowballing,” he said.