AIDS Research Back On

I am very happy about the new administration’s stimulus plan. A sizable chunk of the money will go to the National Institutes of Health to fund much needed repair of it’s buildings and systems.
During the last 8 years the money was almost dried up. An experienced researcher with a great idea was forced to apply two to three times to get the idea considered. The lengthy, well thought out plan received a score. Those with the best scores were funded depending on the amount of money in the budget.

Many wonderful, innovative, high scoring ideas were not funded. Many researchers were discouraged and have left the field of research. Others were discouraged to enter this important field. The largest grant is an R01 and there are many R01 level researchers in each field, such as heart research, but they are the top level researcher and many of these have left the research area due to lack of funding. Many of them had a large staff of experienced helpers and junior researchers who have left for other jobs since there was so little funding. It is nearly impossible to get them back, so new, inexperienced people will need to be trained.

I have taken several courses in research during this “down time” to be ready when the money started flowing again so I will be a more skilled and trained researcher to have grants funded.

With this new infusion of money, many of these ideas are now going to be funded and more new ideas will be funded also. This is truly a stimulus in many ways: the research projects will hire many people to conduct the studies, more space will be rented, the discoveries will stimulate further research or help find more efficient ways to deliver health care, and new devices, systems, and medications will be discovered to solve health care problems.

The process consists of an application detailing the past experience of handling a problem and then the process by which the researchers plan on investigating a new method. The application also has sections describing the researchers past work and experience and the facilities that will be used for the project. There is also a section that describes the future implications of the research. Of course there are sections describing the protection of humans and animals and how to protect the personal and confidential information that may be used. The data must not have any personal identifiers in it, such as date of birth, address, names, and social security numbers. There are also sections assuring the NIH that we will try to use women and people of color in the research and not use children or prisoners or other vulnerable populations without a good reason.

The NIH wants to make sure its money is well spent and has results when the project is over. It doesn’t want someone to perform research who doesn’t have much experience. For instance, I want to do a project with medical marijuana but have not performed enough research in the area of complementary medicines to satisfy the NIH. I must pair up with someone who has so that the NIH is reassured that the study will be performed and monitored in the best way.

The future implication of the study is very important also. If the applicant doesn’t convince the reviewers that this will solve an important problem, then they will not score it high.

The description of the past experience consists of a literature review. The NIH doesn’t want to fund a study that has already been done and needs evidence that this is a good, practical, and feasible idea. Sometimes we must conduct some small trials to get the evidence that a large trial is justified.
Many of these studies have an independent group which watches over the study to make sure it is proceeding well and has not reached a point it should be stopped; an AZT study years ago was stopped since it worked so well to prevent transmission to infants, so why deny the AZT to the other mothers?
The research is not just discovering expensive drugs and devices, many of these studies are in health policy: how to deliver health to the nation better. There is a large group of researchers working on projects in other countries and how to work with cross-border health issues. Germs do not seem to pay attention to the border; health is a global issue. There are also groups studying how to better deliver health care to the underserved. This reminds me: the new administration is planning on funding community clinics better since they are the ones taking care of those who can’t get care someplace else.

Now these research discoveries will take years to come to fruition since the system has been set back 8 years. This gives young and old researchers hope for the future and you should share in that hope.