ASH Awards New Bridge Grants to Help Alleviate Pain of Federal Funding Cuts

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Linda J. Burns, MD

The ASH Bridge Grant program is designed to help bridge talented hematology investigators to their next NIH research grant by funding their efforts to gather additional data to ultimately strengthen their next application.

—Linda J. Burns, MD

In November, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) announced the names of seven recipients of its Bridge Grant awards. These 1-year, $150,000 awards provide critical interim support for hematology research proposals that, despite earning high scores, could not be funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) amid severe funding reductions. The recently announced ASH Bridge Grant award recipients join 44 hematologists who have received funding since ASH committed $9 million in Society funds to create the program in July 2012. 

Competititve Funding

“Since 2003, congressional appropriations for NIH have stagnated and failed to keep pace with inflation. As a result, research dollars have become much more competitive, and researchers whose projects might have been funded 5 years ago might not be funded today,” said ASH President Linda J. Burns, MD, of the University of Minnesota. “The ASH Bridge Grant program is designed to help bridge talented hematology investigators to their next NIH research grant by funding their efforts to gather additional data to ultimately strengthen their next application.”

In addition to helping basic, clinical, and translational hematology investigators sustain their current research projects, another goal of the ASH Bridge Grant program is to ensure that recipients remain committed to hematology despite NIH budget austerity. While the program provides short-term relief, continued investment in NIH is necessary to keep U.S. biomedical research moving forward.

“While ASH is fortunate to be able to provide researchers with the resources they desperately require, we hope that lawmakers understand the urgent need to directly invest in research so scientists will not have to worry about whether they can sustain their projects and staff for another year,” said Dr. Burns.

Wide-Ranging Research

Research projects supported by ASH’s fourth round of Bridge Grants span the breadth of hematology. Funded projects range from exploring the biologic significance of recurrent mutations in disease to the impact of exploring the role of natural killer cells in fighting myeloma to studying how stem cell dysfunction can affect chronic inflammation. 

Lisa Borghesi, PhD, Associate Professor of Immunology at the University of Pittsburgh and one of seven Bridge Grant recipients announced in November, is studying the close relationship between blood cell production and inflammation. The goal of her research is to better understand the mechanisms regulating blood cell production after infection. While Dr. Borghesi received a major NIH grant several years ago, her latest grant renewal application did not meet the NIH payline, despite earning high marks from reviewers.

“The ASH Bridge Grant enables my team to test new ideas and develop new concepts to the fullest potential,” said Dr. Borghesi. “This critical ASH support will not only benefit my research program, but it will also help advance the career trajectories of my trainees who represent the next generation of innovative scientists.”

Myeloma Investigator

Among this next generation of investigators is Fotis Asimakopoulos, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and another recipient of the recently announced ASH Bridge Grants. Dr. Asimakopoulos’ current research focuses on evaluating experimental therapies for multiple myeloma. 

“My situation is typical among many new investigators: I’m entering a zone of uncertainty between dwindling start-up funds and the need for additional investment,” said Dr. Asimakopoulos. “This is a critical time that will determine my ability to launch into a sustainable, productive, and independent career in science and I am grateful to ASH for helping to support me through this period.” 

The awards announced in November constitute the last of two rounds of ASH Bridge Grants awarded in 2014. Beyond the Society’s financial commitment that will provide grants to be awarded annually through at least 2015, additional awards will be supplemented by support from corporate and individual contributors. Generous support from individual donors as well as Millenium: The Takeda Oncology Company, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Onyx Pharmaceuticals enabled the Society to award several additional Bridge Grants as part of this fourth round. ■