Two funding proposals

Published November 01 2018

One of the main problems facing all biomedical researchers these days (new and old ones alike) is that there are simply too many scientists applying for too few dollars. Changing the number of scientists who apply for funding is difficult to address, and a huge increase in the budgets of federal funding agencies does not look likely in the near term. But there are some things that could be done to make more funding available to researchers within the current budgets of federal funding agencies.

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The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee welcomes your thoughts on the future of science funding. They can be broad or detailed. Check out “The future of funding” call for submissions.

Currently, federal agencies will allow principal investigators to pay for up to 95 percent of their salaries from grants. If the percentage of salary that could be obtained from federal grants and contracts were to be limited to, say, 50 percent, this would make more funds available for the actual research and would, in effect, make universities and other research institutions take more responsibility for the salaries of their employees. A gradual implementation of such a policy over several years would allow the research institutions to make adjustments and avoid the adverse impact of a fast transition.

Another problem more specific to researchers in biochemistry and molecular biology is the difficulty in getting funding for basic research that has no obvious translational potential in the near term. I think this problem can be solved only by creation of new National Institutes of Health study sections with a mandate to review basic research. Currently, much of the basic research is crowded into a few study sections or sent to study sections that place a premium on translation.

Michael R. Stallcup is a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the University of Southern California.