MIRA Awards Reflect Innovation of UConn Scientists

Health – UConn Today

As federal money for scientific research dwindles, young researchers with fertile minds but thin track records are struggling to get funded. But a new type of grant from the National Institutes of Health is trying to help. And faculty at UConn Health just won big.
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has awarded $7.5 million to five UConn Health researchers as part of the Maximizing Investigator’s Research Awards for Early Stage Investigators (MIRAs), a strategy to bring innovation and risk-taking back to basic medical research.
“The competition for this award is intense,” says Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine. “We are proud of our faculty members in the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences and of our affiliated faculty at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine who have won the NIH grants. It gives further distinction, and bodes well for exciting discoveries ahead.”
The MIRAs are an experiment, a solution to a sticky problem in medical research. As money grew tight, grant committees at the National Institutes of Health, including NIGMS, wanted to make sure they were spending it wisely. So they became more conservative, and started funding only ideas that had already shown promise. Researchers began to tailor their proposals to fit those ideas. But that led to poorer quality science and fewer big breakthroughs, and also a bias toward established scientists. Currently, a majority of the money from NIH grants, more than 50 percent, goes to just 5 percent of the researchers. Everyone recognizes the problem, but it’s hard to get out of the rut.
So NIGMS is trying a different strategy. The MIRAs are designed to let promising researchers follow the science wherever it leads, instead of forcing them to investigate a specific idea that may or may not pan out. The scientist uses the grant application as a pitch: ‘This is …

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