Tag Archives: medicine

NIH Trend: Grant funding success rate

The sequestration ordered on March 1, 2013 has led to 5% budget cut in the National Institute of Health (NIH) funding. NIH is a key player in funding scientific research. Based on their website, NIH states that there would be roughly 640 less projects granted in the fiscal year of 2013 compared to 2012.

nih success rate

Diagram 1: The continual decline of application success rate in NIH. The blue bar illustrated the number of applications. The green bar illustrates the number of awarded applications. The pink line illustrates the percentage of success rate.

From the NIH data book, we have extracted the success rate in diagram 1 (above). The success rate has dropped significantly from 30% in 2000 to 17% in 2013. That’s a whooping 13% drop in success rate when the number of applications continues to grow. If you look at the detailed number of awarded application (see below), the number of awards coming from NIH in 2013 is similar to the number of awards between 1998 and 1999. So, is NIH under-funded? Absolutely yes.

nih success rate data

Diagram 2: Decline in the number of awards to a level similar to 1999.

Let’s switch gear and look at the award of R01 success rate. R01 is the “original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH”. Diagram 3 below shows first-time applicant (blue) and established investigator (in green). It shows that both success rates have dropped significantly since the late 90s. Since mid-2000s, the success rate has plunged below 20%. The success rates for both first timer and established investigators are now at record low.R01 success rate

Diagram 3. Decline of R01 success rate is found in both first time and established investigators

Interestingly, the number of investigators getting the awards is on a steady increase since the late 90s (see diagram 4 below). Despite the number of awards granted in 2013 is similar to the late 90s, the number of investigators continue to increase. This is possibly due to the fact that more applicants are applying for a grant jointly. Furthermore, the decline in the number of awarded grant application has affected first time applicant the most.

R01 number of investigators

Diagram 4. Steady increase of the number awarded investigators since the late 90s. With the recent decline of awards from 2010, the first time applicants have taken the hardest hit.

Whether or not you are a first time applicant or an established investigator, time is tough. There is an steady increase amount of grant applications, while the number of awards plunges to the level from the late 90s. In the next issue, we will continue to look at the trend within graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Source: NIH RePORT

MRSA superbug: a global concern

There is an increasing amount of news coverage on the superbug, which is also known as the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). But how much do you really know? Here, I will talk about the reason why we should be concerned about the spread.MRSA trend

The history of this bacteria, Staph. aureus, can be traced back to the Egyptian mummies, which historians had recovered pathological changes that are consistent with staphalococcal osteomyelitis. Staph. aureus can be found in 20% to 45% of normal healthy adults. In the hospital-associated cases, serious infection is often caused by the bleach of protection. For example, the skin barrier protection is disrupted after going through an invasive surgery, which allows the colonization of Staph. aureus in tissues.

The concern of MRSA grows as the healthcare community now faces with strains of Staph. aureus that are equipped with methicillin and vancomycin resistance genes.

If you look at the timeline (from Nature Magazine), shortly after the introduction of penicillin in the 1940s, some strains of Staph. aureus were already found to have penicillinase/resistance to penicillin. And if you look at when methicillin is introduced to treat Staph. aureus infection, you can see that methicillin resistant strains can be found shortly after the introduction. Typically, vancomycin is used as a last resort due to its toxicity. But the resistance of vancomycin is also emerging.

Are we running out of options to treat Staph. aureus infection? Not now. But if we don’t take action soon to accelerate the antibiotics discovery, we will run out of options when vancomycin resistant strains dominate.

Universal Flu Shot in Sight?

Influenza virus places a large burden on our society. It is estimated that the costs of everything related to influenza virus infection comes to about $87.1 billion US dollars in the United States. With the existing vaccination program against influenza virus, you may ask why there isn’t a “one size fits all” that can make us completely immune from influenza virus infection with a single vaccine. My parents have asked me that question a few weeks ago. The way how I explain it is through the use of umbrellas. Let’s say the virus carries a bright red umbrella. The immune system recognizes the red cloth on the umbrella and then mount an immune response against the red cloth. But next year, the virus mutates due to selective pressure. The virus now carries a blue umbrella. The immune system now has to go through all the processes from sensing the infection to getting rid of the infection, instead of recognizing the virus at the beginning of the infection. The current strategy that the scientists are trying to develop is the use of broadly neutralizing antibody. The broadly neutralizing antibody recognizes not the cloth of the umbrella, but the stalk of the umbrella which is common among all subtypes of influenza.

A  recent review article by Dr. Krammer and Dr. Palese from Mount Sinai has covered the challenge of this antibody in an elegant way. The real challenge behind the application of a broadly neutralizing antibody against influenza virus is that different age groups tend to have totally different exposure history to the subtypes of influenza virus. Children tend to be naive for influenza virus infection when adult are exposed to it multiple times. Furthermore, the elderly appears to mount a less effective response after a flu shot. Thus, the application of the broadly neutralizing antibody needs to be tested extensively in different age groups before rolling out.

“The initial cost of conducting these trials might seem high, but investment in universal influenza virus vaccine approaches might make it possible to overcome the threat of seasonal and pandemic influenza.”