Friday, July 3, 2009

Cancer Grants

The cancer grant system is a bit funny. The other day the New York Times had an interesting article on the subject. Some of it I found rather absurd while at Cornell:

Some experienced scientists have found a way to offset the problem somewhat. They do chancy experiments by siphoning money from their grants.

“In a way, the system is encrypted,” Dr. Yamamoto said, allowing those in the know to wink and do their own thing on the side.

Great discoveries have been made with N.I.H. financing without manipulating the system, Dr. Klausner said.

“But,” he added, “I actually believe that by and large it is despite, rather than because of, the review system.”
This was really my experience. You can't get a grant without preliminary data. You can't get preliminary data without a grant. That chicken and egg problem often gets solved by using your last grant to fund your next research. Usually this means just a little siphoning on the side, but sometimes it gets more absurd. I have even known of professors who would complete research before even submitting the grant request. Then they would use their new grant to fund a new set of completely different research. This way they develop a track record of doing exactly what they say they will. They also don't get bogged down in doing only research that they can get grants for. Really though, that is the state the system encourages. Until they make grants entirely for "preliminary data" easier to get things stay that way.

The bigger issue with cancer specifically is that they waste too many resources on research that is too theoretical. The research I was doing for example wasn't going to matter for decades if ever. Instead they need to be throwing as many patients as possible into clinical trials to test every minor thing that can be done to improve care.

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