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Despite cutbacks, discovery enterprise nearly doubles last year’s funding

Published on Monday, October 13, 2014

Published in News Stories on October 13, 2014

During one of the most competitive times to access funding from one of the nation’s largest research sponsors, the University of Mississippi Medical Center has received more awards and more money than the previous year.

The National Institutes of Health, the primary federal agency for biomedical and health-related research, has been forced to become more selective in distributing its awards over the last few years, a product of cost-cutting among government agencies.

But in that same time, UMMC has managed to pull in more funding for its extensive research projects, nearly $42 million this fiscal year, a feat placing the Medical Center among the top 10 in the nation for increased percentage of NIH funding. During the last fiscal year, NIH-funded projects at UMMC stood at $23.1 million.

Dr. Richard Summers
Dr. Richard Summers

“We are very proud that our NIH funding is on the rise,” said Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research. “It gives us incredible prestige and credibility in the academic community to have that source of funding, and we are going to look forward to doing that further every year.

“It’s a real challenge because it’s at a pretty hard and competitive point right now.”

Overall, UMMC received more than $52.1 million this year for research from multiple funding sources, representing an 83-percent increase in research funding from last year.

“This success comes from the hard work of the individual researchers at our institution,” said Summers. 

Dr. John Hall
Dr. John Hall

Researchers such as Dr. John Hall, chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and the lead investigator in UMMC’s Mississippi Center for Obesity Research, continue to draw in NIH funding because of the magnitude and potential global impact of his studies.

“We were fortunate to receive two major NIH grants this past year,” said Hall, citing an $11.4 million and a $10.3 million grant, both during a five-year period that will continue his research into obesity and cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

The second grant comes from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a component of NIH, and is a continuation of a program project grant that has been funded at UMMC for 45 years, said Hall.

Dr. Thomas Mosley, professor of geriatrics and lead researcher at the MIND Center, has pulled in funding from many sources thanks to his research into Alzheimer’s disease.

Portrait of Dr. Tom Mosley
Dr. Thomas Mosley

“We’ve been successful and lucky in some ways,” Mosley said. “We’ve certainly worked hard, and we’ve tried to be very strategic about the institutes where we seek funding. Specifically, we’re trying to closely match the institute’s priorities.

Mosley said because cohort studies like his are expensive to run, it’s become important to reach out to multiple institutes.

“So instead of going to just one institute and saying we need a whole lot of support to get this study done, we look for ways to work across institutes and get multiple partners involved,” said Mosley.

The tightening of the purse strings at NIH also has prompted officials to identify alternative funding sources for the MIND Center, said Denise Lafferty, chief of operations at the center.

“The compound effect comes into play, and one result impacts the other; the NIH funding helped us to get state funding and the state funding and private support can help us get more NIH funding,” said Lafferty.

“We were successful in getting state funding for the MIND Center for the first time in 2013. We received $3 million for this current fiscal year,” she added.

The federal and private funding – for which the MIND Center has raised more than $10 million – encouraged state leaders to pay attention, Lafferty said. State and private funding is helping pay for infrastructure projects, which also is critical in gaining NIH funding.

“If you don’t have the staff and equipment to be able to prove you can really deliver the results of the grant, then they are less likely to give you the funding,” she said.

Even as the future of research funding means finding alternative routes, UMMC and its researchers remain committed to the cause, said Summers.

“It’s always important to remember that the point of the research mission is not to get grants,” he said. “The point of the research mission is the discovery itself and the discovery in the context of helping the health care of Mississippians.

“As long as we have our eyes on the prize of discovery and improving the health care of Mississippians, that’s really what we want to do.”