Back to Basics: A call for fundamental neuroscience research 12

Posted by Story Landis

NINDS supports a broad range of research projects, from basic studies of the nervous system to large Phase III clinical trials. Several years ago, we embarked on an institute-wide planning process to analyze and optimize our investments in basic, translational, and clinical research. Triggered by the observation that between 2003 and 2008, NINDS funding for R01s decreased by 10%, we extended our analyses to determine how our extramural funds are distributed across the spectrum of basic and applied research, and whether that distribution has changed over time.

To perform the analysis, we developed simple definitions of basic and applied research (listed at the end of this post) that could be applied as unambiguously and reproducibly as possible. We also divided each of these broad categories into two subcategories—basic/basic, basic/disease-focused, applied/translational, and applied/clinical. Expert neuroscientists, including program directors, scientific review officers, and other members of our staff then assigned funded projects to these subcategories based on careful reading of abstracts, specific aims, and, when necessary, additional sections of the grant application. Because a single application often proposed research in more than one subcategory, we assigned percentages of a grant to each subcategory as appropriate; for example, a grant could be described as 75% basic/basic and 25% basic/disease-focused.

Our analysis covered the period between 1997 and 2012 to ensure that any trends we observed did not reflect a short-term response to a particularly good or bad funding year. This analysis included most of the new and competing continuation grants issued each year. The specific funding mechanisms that we included are described below. Since this was an extremely labor-intensive task (and our staff have day jobs!), we selected eight years within this period for review.

Our first finding was that between 1997 and 2012, NINDS expenditures on applied research as a fraction of total competing research budget increased from 13% to 29% while the proportion of basic research declined from 87% to 71% (Figure 1). Continue reading…