• Future of fundamental discovery in US biomedical research

      Levitt, M; Levitt, JM; Department of Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305; michael.levitt@stanford.edu. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017-06-05)
      Young researchers are crucially important for basic science as they make unexpected, fundamental discoveries. Since 1982, we find a steady drop in the number of grant-eligible basic-science faculty [principal investigators (PIs)] younger than 46. This fall occurred over a 32-y period when inflation-corrected congressional funds for NIH almost tripled. During this time, the PI success ratio (fraction of basicscience PIs who are R01 grantees) dropped for younger PIs (below 46) and increased for older PIs (above 55). This age-related bias seems to have caused the steady drop in the number of young basicscience PIs and could reduce future US discoveries in fundamental biomedical science. The NIH recognized this bias in its 2008 earlystage investigator (ESI) policy to fund young PIs at higher rates. We show this policy is working and recommend that it be enhanced by using better data. Together with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)Maximizing Investigators' Research Award (MIRA) program to reward senior PIs with research time in exchange for less funding, this may reverse a decades-long trend of more money going to older PIs. To prepare young scientists for increased demand, additional resources should be devoted to transitional postdoctoral fellowships already offered by NIH.