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Duke’s stimulus funds flowing into medical research

Provisions included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 have allocated more than $55 million in research funding for Duke’s scientists, stimulating innovation and broadening financial support, said Vice Provost for Research James Siedow.

Duke has submitted 893 proposals for review by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, and 143 of those have been awarded, totaling $55,891,811, Siedow said.

“The University is the locus of basic research,” he said. “We’re seeing riskier proposals [receive funding] that would not have been funded in the past…. We’re really building a foundation for innovative projects and further improvement.”

Of the $787 billion made available by the ARRA, $13.4 billion have been allocated to both the NIH and NSF, the two organizations responsible for this research funding at Duke. The grant has allowed the NIH and NSF to clear a backlog of approved but unfunded proposals, supplement existing projects and begin programs like the NIH Challenge Grants for new ventures.

Since a 2003 doubling in the NIH budget, that grant levels had been slightly decreasing, making the stimulus funding a “huge bolus” into university research nationwide, Siedow noted.

Vice President for Human Resources Kyle Cavanaugh said competition for ARRA grants is keen, noting that Duke researchers have been “incredibly aggressive in campaigning for these funds and, by any measure, highly successful.”

Siedow said the funding has been awarded across all scientific fields, but at Duke, the awarded proposals have fallen into an 80-20 split, with 80 percent going into medical research and 20 percent into other fields.

Rick Hoyle, professor of psychology and neuroscience, received an NIH grant to investigate brain processes for analyzing the effectiveness of anti-drug public service announcements.

“Hopefully, in finding new ways to see if these PSAs are registering, we can inform the bodies of knowledge for both public service and brain processing,” he said.

Siedow noted that the funding has enabled younger investigators to pursue independent research, citing a study by Assistant Professor of Biology Meng Chen that analyzes the nuances of plant cellular responses to light.

“These funds are recruiting people into the research pathway,” Siedow said.

But Siedow added that he is concerned about some limitations to the stimulus funding, including the requirements to disclose spending more frequently and to spend all funding within two years.

Many scientific projects take up to four or five years, Siedow and Hoyle noted, meaning that funding would have to be renewed after this two-year period. If more funds are not made available, Siedow said his team will “hit a cliff, and all the people funded will drop off.”

“There’s certainly no lack of proposals to fund,” Hoyle added.

Although Siedow said the stimulus funding was a boon for Duke researchers, he noted that Duke had maintained support for its scientists even before the ARRA.

“We were doing well even before the stimulus,” he said. “These new grants are icing on the cake.”

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