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NIH Suggests Limits for Grant Support

To re-balance the scientific workforce, the US National Institutes of Health has proposed limiting the total amount of grant support any one principal investigator can have.

In a statement, NIH Director Francis Collins notes that the percentage of NIH grants going to early-career investigators has remained flat, while the percentage of grants for mid-career investigators has fallen. It has risen, though, for late-stage investigators. He further points out that the distribution of NIH grants is skewed, as 10 percent of investigators receive more than 40 percent of agency funding.

To address this, NIH plans to implement a Grant Support Index, which gives a point value to grants based on type, complexity, and size. Then, any application that includes a researcher with a GSI of 21 or more — which Collins says is about the equivalent of three single-PI R01 grants — would have to describe how that person's grant load would be adjusted.

He adds that this move would only affect about 6 percent of NIH-funded investigators and would free up some 1,600 grants that could be awarded to a broader group of researchers.

"NIH is committed to assuring the robustness and stability of the next generation of investigators," adds Michael Lauer, the deputy director for extramural research at NIH, at his Open Mike blog. "We have a responsibility to the public to assure that we are optimizing the use of our limited resources to obtain the maximum impact possible."

He notes that the agency plans on working with the research community on how to best put this practice into place.