Young ScientistThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) have announced a new point system for grant allocation that will allow them to restrict the amount of funding an individual can have at any given point for the first time. The change, announced yesterday, is one part of an on-going effort to make research grants more accessible to scientists earlier in their career.

“Because scientific discovery is inherently unpredictable, there are reasons to believe that supporting more researchers working on a diversity of biomedical problems, rather than concentrating resources in a smaller number of labs, might maximize the number of important discoveries that can emerge from the science we support,” wrote Francis Collins, Director of the NIH.

Research has shown that, logically, productivity in a lab increases proportionally to funding. It would make sense, therefore, that by increasing the funding of a lab, you can drive more successful research. However, there is a limit to this growth. Generally a cap in productivity can be found at around $700,000 per annum, at which point productivity starts to decline once more.

People have been campaigning against the inequality in NIH grants for over ten years now. At present, roughly 40% of the total research money distributed by the NIH is allocated to 10% of the successful grants. Some have also argued that by creating such competition for winning funding, researchers are forced to spend more time working on grant proposals and less time in the lab working on their projects.

The new policy is an attempt to help correct this imbalance. In acknowledgement of the fact that some forms of research are simply more expensive than others, the policy doesn’t not set a fixed financial limit; instead, it relies on a point based system. This takes the form of the Grant Support Index (GSI), which assigns a point value to different grant types on the basis of their complexity and size. Researchers will then be limited to 21 points, which is roughly equivalent to 3 R01 grants, the most commonly awarded grant type.

The implementation of this new system has yet to be determined, and will rely on input from researchers working alongside the NIH. While a final product may be some way off, however, the initial plan appears as though it will help enable a much fairer system for researchers across the USA.

In his statement, Collins wrote, “While implementation of a GSI limit is estimated to affect only about 6 percent of NIH-funded investigators, we expect that, depending on the details of the implementation, it would free up about 1,600 new awards to broaden the pool of investigators conducting NIH research and improve the stability of the enterprise.”

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