What are other options for grant funding besides the NIH?
By: Roche Life Science
Posted: August 12, 2015 | Everyday Essentials for Research
Research grants from the National Institutes of Health have become increasingly competitive in recent years, forcing more investigators to search outside the federal organization to obtain critical funds. This can be a daunting process, and submitting multiple applications is a must for the majority of investigators. Therefore, in this article we will highlight a broad range of non-NIH funding sources that may help you secure essential laboratory funding.
Home or affiliate academic institution
While this may seem somewhat obvious, we emphasize its importance, as it is often one of the best places to search for additional funding. Your institution may have various pilot grants for early investigators, and a strong track record with promising data combined with colleague support can go a long way in securing these.
It's in your best interest to network with those involved in this process, as they may be able to provide insight into the priority topics and how best to focus and tailor your application, especially if collaboration is needed for demonstrating expertise. There may be smaller foundation awards as well, for both principal investigators as well as trainees in your lab.
Don't overlook these resources, as even small grants can cover essential costs like computers, new equipment or travel to scientific conferences. Similarly, encourage and assist the trainees in your lab to search and apply for their own funding. These fellowships and educational grants can often cover reagents, supplies, or even their salaries and travel; and moreover, it helps your lab members succeed in their future careers.
Be sure to talk to more senior investigators around you. They are an invaluable resource and have seen the inevitable ebb and flow of funding over the years. Ask them where they have obtained non-NIH funding, and even ask where they have tried and failed. There may be certain organizations with a poor track record for funding particular types of projects and this can sometimes be gleaned from those who have tried and failed before you.
Also, don't forget to check and see whether there might be infrastructure or facilities grants available. These tend to have multiple investigators (or co-PIs), but can be a huge source of laboratory support for shared equipment and resources, especially when multi-disciplinary labs join and can show potential for exponential benefit to those around them.
Private foundations and organizations
This potentially is an innumerable list of organizations. Therefore, it can be helpful if your institution maintains an updated and easily searchable funding opportunities website. If not, utilizing the lists published from other institutions that are freely available online is useful, such as the one from Albert Einstein College of Medicine1. There are a vast number of organizations related to each field and there can be a particular emphasis or specific research criteria you should be aware of before applying.
For instance, if you are a strictly basic science lab looking to apply for grants from private clinical health organizations, you need to have a firm grasp of the potential clinical and translational implications of your work down the line. This is essential for private grants from clinical institutions such as the American Heart Association2, the American Cancer Society3, Susan G. Koman organization4, the American Diabetes Association5, etc.
This does not necessarily mean you need to have clinical research included in your application. It does mean that you must be able to illustrate how success of your core basic science aims can increase the molecular or cellular understanding of a critical disease process. This may have clinical or translational potential, such as identification of novel pharmacologic targets or molecular signatures, and thus impact human disease processes.
Many private research organizations were founded on the basis of impacting human disease, and reviewers for these applications want to know that you understand how your research can fit within this context. Another avenue to consider is whether there are global health implications for your work, especially related to vaccines or infectious diseases that may open up possibilities for public health-related funding sources from organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation6.
Non-NIH federal agencies
Another category of funding sources is from non-NIH federal agencies. These can range from federal organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), a basic science driven organization with an emphasis on early career development awards for teacher-scholars7.
An often overlooked source is the Department of Defense (DoD), which has funding opportunities in a broad range of categories, including: cancer (such as lung, prostate, breast, and ovarian), neuroscience (such as Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, spinal cord injury), as well as processes such as muscular dystrophy and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)8. Other federal agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may at times have relevant basic science funding opportunities. However, these can vary year to year depending on priority topics, so it can be helpful to check back to their website periodically for funding updates9.