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NIH research funding has positive 'ripple effects' on future studies, study finds

National Institutes of Health funding often produces research beyond the study involved in the initial grant, according to a new analysis. Photo by jarmoluk/<a href="https://pixabay.com/photos/laboratory-analysis-diagnostics-2813892/">Pixabay</a>
National Institutes of Health funding often produces research beyond the study involved in the initial grant, according to a new analysis. Photo by jarmoluk/Pixabay

April 22 (UPI) -- Federal funding for medical research has a "ripple effect," fostering new studies beyond the original grant and increased productivity from scientists, a study published Friday found.

Nearly 70% of the funds provided by study grants from the National Institutes of Health are used to hire staff and researchers to work on these projects, data published Friday by Science Advances showed.

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Increases in funding led labs to hire more staff and career researchers, the authors of the report said.

As funding increased and research teams grew, they produced more scientific papers outside the scope of the initial grant, particularly on subjects directly related to patient care and other types of medical innovation, the researchers said.

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"We see a great increase in productivity in publications directly linked to a grant, but also in new studies that go beyond it," study co-author Enrico Berkes said in a press release.

"There is this ripple effect where people supported by the grant also produce other quality work," said Berkes, a post-doctoral researcher in economics at the Ohio State University in Columbus.

The findings are based on an analysis of study funding information from the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science's UMETRICS dataset, which provides records of grant-sponsored research projects at 72 universities across the United States, the researchers said.

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The dataset allowed the researchers to use payments to identify all people working on research projects funded by the NIH, from faculty members to trainees to staff, they said.

They then cross-referenced these records against information on published studies listed in the PubMed database, the National Library of Medicine's compendium of peer-reviewed research, to find all research publications produced by the scientists in the UMETRICS database.

They focused specifically on NIH grants awarded between 1985 and 2020, they said.

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For the included grants, 68% of the funding went to spending on employees, which included faculty members, postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, research staff and other staff, the data showed.

However, the largest increase in papers came from studies not directly related to the initial grant, many of them authored by staff hired for the original project, the researchers said.

This included papers not co-authored by the principal investigator, the researcher who is responsible for getting and managing the funding, according to the researchers.

Principal investigators are behind the largest increase in new scientific papers that result from additional funding, the data showed.

Still, at least in relative terms, trainees, including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, involved in these studies see a larger percentage increase in papers they produce after being a part of funded studies, the researchers said.

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"We can see how research funding is jump-starting the careers of trainees who take what they learn while working on these funded projects, and the collaborators they met on the grant, and start investigating other important issues," study co-author Bruce Weinberg said in a press release.

This "funding is actually producing the kind of research that would lead to improvements in clinical outcomes for patients," said Weinberg, a professor of economics at Ohio State.

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