The Hematologist

March-April 2018, Volume 15, Issue 2

Not a Bridge Too Far

ASH Staff American Society of Hematology, Washington, DC

Published on: February 28, 2018

“It allowed me to continue working on a key project in my lab. Without it, people would have been laid off and a project would have been shuttered.”

“It was instrumental in allowing my research to continue while I obtained additional funding. In addition, the recognition by ASH gave me confidence that my work has value to the field of hematology.”

With each new cycle of Bridge Grant awards, ASH receives testimonials such as these from recipients. More than anything perhaps, the real-world honesty from this committed group of scientists affirms the idea that these grants are not like other awards: these grants specifically target investigators who are seeking National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding in support of their research. The grant provides much-needed resources and the time to strengthen proposals and improve the likelihood of a successful grant submission to the NIH. Like other ASH awards; each grant dispersed recognizes a colleague’s hard work and accomplishments; and provides the means, as well as encouragement, to continue that work. In terms of the broader landscape of hematology, every grant represents real investment in the science, in the research professionals themselves, and in the patients and caregivers who ultimately benefit. Another facet that makes these awards special is the fact that there is no preferred career level — beginning, mid-career, and senior hematologists are all eligible to apply for an ASH Bridge Grant.

In 2012, the ASH Executive Committee recognized that the series of flat budgets for NIH was having a drastic effect on the careers of hematologists across the United States. Dr. David M. Bodine, a member of the working group tasked with designing the program and a co-chair of the program study section, was instrumental in formulating the program in 2012, as the ASH Executive Committee recognized that the series of flat budgets for the NIH was having a drastic effect on the careers of hematologists across the United States. Here, Dr. Bodine provides insight into the Bridge Grant’s origins, future, and current impact on hematology.

Tell us about the sense of urgency behind the Bridge Grant’s beginnings in 2012.

At the time, institutions were faced with the prospect of losing outstanding colleagues whose research support had lapsed due to the failure of an R01 (or equivalent) grant application or renewal to be funded. The crisis was not confined to hematologists of any particular career stage or institution, and in reality, new investigators submitting their first grants, young investigators submitting their second grants in preparation for tenure, and more senior investigators trying to maintain their research programs were all impacted by the decreasing research funding available from NIH.

What was ASH’s original investment, and what is the level of support currently provided by the award?

In 2013, ASH made a commitment of $9 million in Society funds to the Bridge Grant. As one-year awards they were designed to “bridge” recipients during lapses in NIH funding. Through each grant proffered, ASH now provides $150,000 of direct support to recipients, allowing them to continue their experiments to obtain additional data, hereby strengthening their grant applications.

Can you explain a bit about the eligibility requirements and why they were put in place?

The eligibility criteria were developed to ensure that researchers at all stages of their careers could apply for an award, and they are relatively simple: First, an applicant is eligible to apply if he or she is an ASH member and has had an R01 (or equivalent) hematology research application scored, but not funded, within the previous 18 months. Second, an applicant must have less than $250,000 of direct costs from other grants. This is to ensure that investigators with one active R01 are not excluded. Finally, an applicant’s department or institution must provide matching funds ($50,000.00) to demonstrate their commitment to the applicant’s success. These matching funds may be in cash but also can be in the form of access to supplies and equipment that the applicant would otherwise have to pay for. (Additional details of the eligibility requirements can be found in the ASH website.)

From your perspective, has the grant accomplished everything intended, and how are we measuring the program’s success?

By all metrics, the ASH Bridge Grant program has been a great success. The preliminary $9 million investment has been supplemented through donations, and, in fact, support for the Bridge Grant has been so strong that ASH decided to continue the program beyond the initial three-year trial period. As of this writing, ASH has funded almost 100 (roughly 24 per year) researchers with Bridge Grants. More than 60 percent of the award recipients successfully received R01 funding within one calendar year after receiving an award, and the rate of eventual R01 funding is even higher when applications submitted more than a year after receipt of the award are considered. But most important, the Bridge Grants have allowed the recipients to keep their labs operating, to retain their staffs, and to continue to contribute to the hematology community.

You have heard from scores of recipients and applicants over the years. What are the biggest misconceptions people have about the Bridge Grant?

As noted above, when designing the Bridge Grant program, ASH made a pointed effort to include hematologists at all stages of their careers and in all fields of research. Despite this, rumors persist that the grants are designed only for specific types of researchers (clinical or basic, malignant or nonmalignant) at a specific stage of their careers (new, mid-career, or senior). However, there is no evidence to support any of these beliefs. A review of the Bridge Grant recipients demonstrates that slightly more than 50 percent of the awards are for research in nonmalignant hematology, and the remainder are for research in malignant hematology. The awards are evenly distributed with respect to career stage as well. ASH awards just as many grants to new investigators trying to get their first R01 funded, as to very senior investigators attempting to renew grants that had been operating for decades. Likewise, the credentials of the award recipients include MDs, MD/PhDs, and PhDs in proportion to the number of applications received. No individual or group is favored or disadvantaged in this program.

What is your loudest message for someone on the fence but eyeing the award application?

First, we want everyone reading this to know that ASH has the funds to support even more worthy Bridge Grant applications. Also, the current application cycle just started on February 28 of this year, and complete applications are due by May 1, 2018. Successful applicants will be notified during July of this year, which is also when awards will be activated. Lastly, we cannot stress enough that hematologists at any and every career stage who meet the eligibility criteria are encouraged to apply.

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