IU School of Medicine strengthens research resources, national rankings in NIH grants

  • Nov. 11, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University School of Medicine researchers brought in more than $109 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health in fiscal year 2014, an increase of nearly $12 million that sharply boosted the school’s NIH award rankings.

The school's ranking among all 135 schools of medicine rose to 37th, up from 41st in 2013. Among state government supported schools, IU School of Medicine rose to 16th from 19th the year before. Research grants from the NIH are the single largest source of research funding for biomedical research scientists and are viewed as a proxy for the quality of a school of medicine's research enterprise.

NIH research grants make possible the basic scientific discoveries that lead to potential new treatments for disease. If a particular protein, or a cascade of events in a cell, for example, are identified as key to the progression of a disease, they become potential targets for new therapies. NIH grants also help pay for the work of figuring out how to design drugs to reach those targets.

Recent discoveries by IU scientists, such as a molecule that may be a key to preventing heart failure, a compound that may be the first to slow or halt chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a protein that promotes the growth of pancreatic cancer, were all made possible by NIH grants.

With federal budget cuts, funding for the NIH has fallen by more than 20 percent in the past decade after accounting for inflation, and the total number of research grants has also fallen significantly.

Federal budget constraints have meant competition for NIH research grants has grown ever more fierce, with many NIH institutes funding less than 10 percent of proposals received," said Jay L. Hess, M.D., dean of the IU School of Medicine and vice president for university clinical affairs for IU.

"The fact that we were able to counter this trend is a testament to the quality and dedication of our scientists, our ability to recruit talented new investigators, and our ability to leverage important investments in the IU School of Medicine's research enterprise," Dr. Hess said.

At 16, the school's ranking among publicly supported medical schools is the highest since 2006, and the ranking of 37th among all medical schools is the highest for IU since 1998.

David Wilkes, M.D., executive associate dean for research affairs, noted that the school has undertaken several initiatives to improve the success rates for faculty NIH grant proposals.

For example the school has used investments in its research efforts by the Lilly Endowment and IU Health to recruit top scientists who bring research funding with them to the school and land additional grants once here. Those investments include the $60 million Physician Scientist Initiative funded by the endowment in 2009 and the $150 million joint IU School of Medicine-IU Health Strategic Research Initiative, both of which allocated a portion of the funding to recruiting. Such recruiting efforts continue.

Other efforts include creation of committees of experienced researchers to help younger scientists improve their applications, especially proposals that have been scored well by NIH reviewers but just missed the funding cutoff.

The school also provides funding from several internal and external sources -- including the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, the Strategic Research Initiative and the Ralph W. and Grace M. Showalter Research Trust Fund -- to underwrite the costs of pilot research projects meant to develop the preliminary scientific findings needed to apply for NIH research awards.

The school also is strengthening its efforts to move scientific discoveries from the laboratory into therapies used to help patients, notably through the Indiana CTSI, an NIH-funded statewide collaboration of IU, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, and through the Strategic Research Initiative.

"These efforts demonstrate a commitment to expanding our research efforts and funding in ways that will produce the scientific discoveries necessary to bring the latest and best therapies to patients everywhere," Dr. Wilkes said.

Walther Hall research building

Walther Hall research building

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Eric Schoch