Academic health centers are traditionally dependent on extramural agencies like the National Institutes of Health to fund medical research. The still-struggling U.S. economy has kept federal paylines stagnant in recent years even as research costs climb. Academic health center leaders need to find new funding sources to ensure that critical medical research continues. Myers and colleagues, in their report in this issue of Academic Medicine, found that scientific research funding by philanthropic nonprofit organizations rose 26% from 2006 to 2008. Even though the time frame for their study precedes the recent economic recession, their findings provide hope and guidance to academic health centers. Stable research portfolios should include a variety of sources, and Myers and colleagues suggest that partnership opportunities exist between federal and not-for-profit funding sources to focus on key disease areas. Seeking broader research funding may benefit at-risk groups like junior investigators, as the average age of a first-time NIH grant recipient in 2008 was 42 years old. To foster the new discoveries and ideas that come from young scientists, academic health centers need to diversify their research funding sources.
It is encouraging that high-visibility philanthropic organizations enhanced funding by 26% from 2006 to 2008. However, between 2008 and 2010, overall grant support from foundations declined 2.3%. Should federal and private funding continue to fall, there is an eminent threat of losing a generation of investigators. Thus, creative solutions and partnerships are needed to fund more high-priority research to cure disease and create the future of medicine.