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Perspective: Is NIH Funding the “Best Science by the Best Scientists”? A Critique of the NIH R01 Research Grant Review Policies

Costello, Leslie C. PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181d74256
Research Issues

Clinical and experimental biomedical research provides the foundation for advances in medicine, health, and the welfare of the public. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the major agency providing funding for biomedical research. The stated objectives of the NIH for funding research grants (R01s) are to “fund the best science, by the best scientists” and “to see that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews—free from inappropriate influences—so NIH can fund the most promising research.” The NIH recently reviewed and identified issues involved with the study section peer review process that compromise the achievement of these laudable and important objectives. Consequently, the NIH has and continues to issue new guidelines and requirements relating to the R01 grant review process. The author argues that some of these NIH directives conflict with and counteract the achievement of the NIH's stated objectives. The author further contends that the directives introduce discrimination into the review process. Such conditions impede the funding of the best science by the best scientists, while funding lesser-quality research. The NIH should eliminate all directives that prevent R01 grants from being awarded solely to the highest-quality research. This is in the best interest of the biomedical community and the health and welfare of the public at large.

Dr. Costello is professor, Division of Oncology/Dental School and Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland.

Editor's Note: A commentary on this article appears on pages 746–748.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Costello, Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences, Dental School/University of Maryland, 650 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201; telephone: (410) 706-7618; e-mail:

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges