Meredith Weston is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America where she received her master’s degree in biotechnology.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s major funder and lead supporter of biomedical research, has felt the squeeze of declining federal funding over the past decade and this year’s sequester is only making it more difficult to fund their promising research. In 2013, the NIH saw a sequestration cut of 8.2% and a $2.8 billion reduction in funding. The budget impacts from these federal cuts are starting to be felt in biomedical research communities across the nation in the form of reductions in research and development departments, large-scale layoffs, and shutting down major research facilities. In response to the reduction in government funding and desperate for a solution, scientists have begun to tap into innovative health initiatives and funding alternatives in hopes to see their research become reality.
Whether you are a rock band trying to cut your new album or an inventor needing to pay for a patent, crowdfunding has been an easy option for ordinary people to raise the funds necessary to make their dreams come true. However, crowdfunding in the scientific community is fairly new. Just recently, Microryza started providing researchers a media platform where they can solicit money from the public to fund their projects. With an average donation of $92, Microryza has helped get important research off the ground and put the public in the driver seat of scientific opportunity. Crowdsourced health and pharmaceutical research has also become an evolving trend with the leading operators of researcher-organized studies including companies such as PatientsLikeMe and 23andMe. These operators have published findings in the areas of disease research, drug response, user experience in crowdsourced studies, and genetic association. With their rapid growth being facilitated by Internet and social media, participatory health initiatives and crowdsourcing are becoming an integral part of the public health ecosystem.
More scientists have also begun to turn to independent, nonprofit organizations as alternate funding sources. For example, the Pew Charitable Trusts and their Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences identifies and invests in outstanding, young investigators of science relevant to the advancement of human health. To date, the program has invested more than $130 million to fund over 500 Pew Scholars. With the award providing funding up to $240,000 per year over four years, this program is both prestigious and competitive. However, the changes in funding aren’t just being felt in the United States; the face of international aid for health care is also changing. While the U.S. Agency for International Development remains the largest donor on the planet, another nonprofit, The Gates Foundation, does its part by donating billions of dollars into development projects and disease eradication in underdeveloped countries around the world.
These funding sources have the potential to facilitate a next-generation understanding of disease and drug response on a global level. By expanding the scope of medicine from a traditional focus on disease cure to a personalized, interactive approach, looking beyond the government seems to be a promising complement and extension to the dated conduct of health research and funding.
Have you or your lab used alternative funding methods to support your research? What’s worked for you?