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Who Pays For Science; Alternative Funding Opportunities and How to Find Them

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Heather O’Leary, Tiago Luis, Cedric Tremblay and Hitoshi Takizawa

As scientists, we are responsible for acquiring funding to support the projects, and people, in our laboratories. This funding affects both the projects we are able to pursue as well as in many cases our ability to pay parts of our paychecks, undertake high risk projects/experiments, and progress through the academic ranks. However, in many cases, as the paylines for the major granting institutions fluctuate, it is necessary to “think outside the box” with respect to funding for projects and people. This connections article will address alternative funding institutions and how to find them.


In the U.S. the major funding establishment is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which is made up of 27 research centers with specific agendas based on body system or tissue type that funds science through training grants, program project grants, and career stage based awards. Each institute has its own funding guidelines, paylines (which are currently around 10-18%), and grant cycles (3 cycles per year). Many other countries have similar structures as the main funding forces for sciences, such as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC, Australia, 1 cycle per year), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR, Canada), Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany), the Medical Research Council (MRC, United Kingdom), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC, United Kingdom), Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS, Japan)  Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED, Japan), and Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP, many countries). Additionally, at an international level, the European Research Council (ERC), European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and Human Frontier Science Program also provides research funding to associated member countries. Stepping outside of these more classically thought of funding institutions, many countries have Department of Defense funding (DOD), or an equivalent, that may have specific umbrella agendas such as cellular response to radiation/radiation mitigation, HIV/AIDS research etc. where they provide research support.


Although these government-funded sources are valuable, they are often saturated with grants from trainees through very junior-senior investigators and, based on budget cuts and current paylines, may not be viable options to completely support a training experience or laboratory. Therefore, alternative funding strategies and sources must be sought out. Examples of these sources include industry-funded studies, financial support from non-profit societies/foundations that may have a specific disease or tissue focus, private foundation funding, correlative studies from clinical trials, and innovative project awards. To that end, these additional funding sources may require you to think about your science from another perspective and spin it in a way that best aligns with the grant opportunities that are available.


Industry-funded studies, as well as clinical trial correlatives, can be investigator-established and many companies (Pfizer, Eli Lilly etc.) have portals on their websites for you to submit project ideas to request financial support, both for U.S. and international studies. Most require an initial brief overview, your curriculum vitae, timeline for data acquisition and study completion, as well as initial budget. Study budgets are often substantial and projects may cover off label use of drugs or animal studies to better understand mechanisms of action/novel drug targets etc. Although these types of studies often require conflict-of-interest disclosures and confidentiality agreements in most cases publication of data obtained from the project typically only requires the company the opportunity to have lead time with the manuscript/data prior to submission/publication/presentation.


Funding from non-profits or privately established foundations often offer smaller grants but in more specific categories of training such as scholar awards, junior or senior faculty awards, merit awards etc. Additionally they may offer training programs that allow for travel to gain techniques or insight from laboratories, or investigators, at another institution that may enhance your work. Some examples of these funding institutions that are applicable to ISEH trainees and faculty include; the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, American Society of Hematology (within the U.S.) as well as The Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, Bloodwise, Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund (KKLF)  (within the U.K.), Japanese Society of Hematology (Japan, exchange program with EHA and ASH), JSPS (Japan, supporting international collaboration at lab and institutional level), and the European Hematology Association (EHA). Additionally, some foundations/societies operate grants clearinghouse websites (for trainees especially) that are updated with foundational or training grants geared toward an early career stage. It is important to consider funding opportunities where initial eligibility may not necessarily stem from what your very specific research focus is, but rather you as a candidate, such as women in science awards, underrepresented minority awards, innovative/high risk project awards. It is also crucial to consider financial support from your or collaborating institution, as well as the awards available within your specific location.


Finding the many funding opportunities (both in the U.S. and internationally) can appear overwhelming. In addition to general internet searches for funding in your area of interest or data bases supported by specific foundations, many journals have suggestions of where to look for funding ( and there are websites you can register for that will allow you to get requests for application (RFA, example website is PIVOT) as well as due dates, inclusion criteria etc. based on the parameters you define. Additional websites exist to suggest alternative funding sources as well and examples of these include:

Overall, although funding your laboratory is critical, taking a traditional route of only government-funded studies is not, especially in the current economic context. The ability to expand your scientific investigations, as well as their applications and relevance, provides additional broad opportunities for funding and collaboration.



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