The North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) Foundation exists to fund and promote research and educational programs that advance the creation, application, and dissemination of knowledge relevant to the disciplines of pediatric gastroenterology and related fields. An important dimension of the Foundation's mission is to support young investigators as their research careers transition from training to independence. This is a vulnerable time in a young investigator's career, particularly because grant funding from government sources has become intensely competitive and favors experienced scientists with a track record of accomplishment and a significant body of preliminary data in support of their proposed work.
Since 1999, Nestle Nutrition has generously supported an annual nutrition research grant awarded to a member of NASPGHAN. This award, entitled the NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition Young Investigator Development Award, is a 2-year grant awarded on a competitive basis to a junior faculty member judged to have exceptional potential for an independent research career. The NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Award supports meritorious basic or clinical investigation relating to nutrition in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. The award permits protection from clinical duties so that junior faculty can focus on research career development at this important time in their career maturation. Since its inception, 13 grants have been awarded.
These awards have supported original investigation in nutrition science across a broad spectrum, including science related to the microbiome, pediatric obesity, and malabsorption. In this report, a brief summary of the outcomes of this important award is provided. The results show a high level of achievement of NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Award recipients, with outstanding subsequent academic, research, and scholarly productivity.
Presently, awards of $75,000/year for 2 years are made. Additional monies are not available for indirect cost recovery. The supporting institution must provide the applicant with at least 70% protected time to conduct the proposed work. A complete financial statement and scientific progress report are required annually. Awardees must present their work at the annual NASPGHAN scientific meeting and are recognized at the society's annual award ceremony.
This report summarizes the demography and the success of applicants in advancing their careers in the field of nutrition. Some of these data have been reported in a 2008 analysis of NASPGHAN Foundation grant outcomes, including all awarded grants across the broader spectrum of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition (1). The present article focuses on the longest standing grant program, which focuses on a nutrition-related research.
Grant announcements are made to the NASPGHAN membership early each calendar year. A receipt deadline is typically in mid-summer. Applicants must hold an MD, MD/PhD, or PhD degree and be a NASPGHAN member in good standing. Eligibility is limited to NASPGHAN members less than 5 years from completion of subspecialty training that hold a full-time faculty position in an academic institution within the United States, Mexico, or Canada. They may not hold an independent R01, P01 (or similar), or Canadian Institutes of Health Research operating grant. Recipients of US-mentored awards such as the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) KO8 and K23, or equivalent Canadian and Mexican and national foundation grants are eligible to apply. Three to 6 applications are received annually. Grants are organized into a 1-page scientific summary, 1 page of specific aims, and a 4-page research strategy including significance, innovation, approach, and references. Two letters of recommendation are required. One letter is from the individual responsible for the applicant's research training and describes the applicant's potential for an independent research career. The second is from the applicant's academic division or department leader and must clearly delineate a commitment of 70% protected time for research, as well as an adequate assignment of space, equipment, and resources for conduct of the proposed research.
SCIENTIFIC REVIEW PROCEDURES
The NASPGHAN Research Committee reviews applications using a primary and secondary reviewer system, similar to the review methodology used by the NIH. On occasion, ad hoc reviewers are invited by the research committee chair to ensure the strongest possible scientific expertise. Primary emphasis is given to scientific strength and innovation of the proposed work, qualifications of the applicant, and commitment of the applicant's division and department. The potential for an independent research career is an important evaluation criterion. Members of the review panel follow strict conflict of interest guidelines. Grant scores are tabulated and submitted to the NASPGHAN Foundation leadership, along with a recommendation for funding of the top-scoring proposal. No employee of Nestle Nutrition participates in the review process or in the decision regarding funding.
AWARDEES AND OUTCOMES
Seven of 13 awardees are women (54%). Two are PhD scientists. Twelve of 13 (92%) Nestle Award recipients remain in a traditional academic setting in a university and/or an affiliated children's hospital. Awardees’ present institutions are geographically diverse across the United States. The awardee presently not at an academic institution is a member of senior management at a large pharmaceutical company and continues to contribute peer-reviewed articles to the biomedical literature. The research proposals covered a broad range of nutrition-related topics, including obesity and its consequences, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, sugar-added beverages and cardiovascular morbidity, probiotics, Latino nutrition, vitamin D, bone health, intestinal stem cell biology, sucrase-isomaltase deficiency, tufting-enteropathy and malabsorptive diarrhea, growth in inflammatory bowel disease, and others.
Collectively, these nutrition scientists have acquired $10.9 million in competitive research awards from the NIH, including 3 R01 awards, 8 K-type awards, and 2 F-series grants. Funding from other sources, such as private foundations, industry, and other federal sources was not assessed in this analysis. Remarkably, 8 of 13 (61%) awardees have obtained competitive K or R awards from the NIH. This is especially notable because the most recent awardees are early in their careers and have not yet submitted NIH grants, but will be expected to compete for external funding in the next few years.
By way of comparison to the few available metrics, the track record of the NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Award recipients in obtaining NIH grants is exceptional. As a reference point, according to NIH data, among all applicants the overall success rate of K awards has been in the range of 40% during the past decade and 18% to 25% for R awards. The NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition awardees exceed these percentages.
An alternate benchmark is the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development's Child Health Research Development Award (CHRCDA). The CHRCDA is a K12 grant mechanism competitively awarded to the top children's hospitals and departments of pediatrics nationally. K12 grants are given to each recipient institution's best and brightest junior faculty. This is a highly competitive, prestigious training grant exclusively awarded to MD or MD/PhD pediatricians early in their academic careers. The success rate for conversion to NIH grants for CHRCDA awardees is 55% (2). The 61% conversion rate for NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition awardees, compared with the 55% conversation rate for CHRCDA grantees, provides objective evidence for outstanding performance of the NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle program.
Recipients of the NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition Award have published 210 peer-reviewed articles, in addition to book chapters, editorials, and topical reviews. These have been published in leading biomedical journals, not only in the field of pediatrics but also in all of medicine. For example, the 2005 awardee published a high visibility commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine regarding pediatric obesity (3). The 2007 awardee published in the Journal of the American Medical Association a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey analysis of sugar-added beverage consumption and linked it to obesity and dyslipidemia in adults (4). This work was accomplished using grant monies from the NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition Award. Awardees have published multiple articles as the lead investigator in Gastroenterology and other premier, high-impact factor journals such as Circulation, Hepatology, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Human Molecular Genetics, and the American Journal of Public Health. These publications provide evidence that the awardees have become leading investigators in the fields of nutrition and gastroenterology.
After 13 years of investment in the investigative careers of junior NASPGHAN members, a robust track record has emerged that strongly endorses the extraordinary accomplishments of NASPGHAN Foundation/Nestle Nutrition Award recipients. Objectively, awardees are performing similar to or better than junior faculty at elite institutions in the United States in terms of NIH competitiveness. They are publishing nutrition research in leading medical journals and remain productive in biomedical research careers at leading US children's hospitals.
These results support and validate the value of early research grant funding to junior research faculty under the aegis of the NASPGHAN Foundation and in partnership with industry leaders such as Nestle Nutrition. This model may be increasingly important because research funding is increasingly restricted at the federal level. It also appears to be an effective strategy for stimulating research in a specific discipline, such as pediatric nutrition, in need of an influx of talented junior investigators.