This week’s New York Times op-ed, “Young, Brilliant and Underfunded” by Maryland Congressional Rep. Andy Harris, MD, brings attention to several important scientific and political issues. Among them: the paradox that research funding is often awarded based on past achievement instead of promising, innovative ideas. Dr. Harris finished the piece with a call to action for policymakers to support young scientists and their ideas.
The op-ed brings up valid concerns, but doesn’t take into account that the most-funded researchers usually run big labs that employ and train young, talented researchers. These trainees are important sources of innovation. Eventually, they will secure their own funding and take leadership positions.
An Evolving Field for Young Scientists
Sources of research grants are moving away from federal and state funding of basic studies toward disease-centered support from nonprofits. This shift pushes emerging young investigators into focusing on specific diseases.
Yet biomedical expertise is no longer enough. Emerging young scientists will need a clinical perspective on diseases, too. They will need to collaborate with physicians, participate in hospital grand rounds and interact with patients.
For example, the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research recently established theBrain Tumor Biotech Center. The new entity meets unmet clinical needs by supporting clinicians and basic researchers with on-site core facilities and compliance offices. Funding comes from government and nonprofit sources. This collaboration can serve as a model for future research innovations.
The New York Times op-ed spotlights the concerns of the the Feinstein Institute’sYoung Investigators Society. Policymakers should do their share and ensure the financial freedom of young investigators. In the future of biomedical research, emerging young investigators’ success will not be defined by the brilliance of their science. Rather, they will excel as mediators between their research peers, physicians, patients and regulators.