Quite some time ago Dr. Isis reviewed the complications associated with doing sex comparisons in scientific research.
This is a particular issue that Dr. Isis, as a vascular physiologist and a woman, is painfully aware of and, yet, the difficulties associated with including women in clinical research can be more pragmatic than simple gender discrimination.
Promoting special funding opportunities are the only way to tip the equation even slightly more favorable to the sex-differences side. The lure of the RFA is enough to persuade the experienced PI to write in the female groups. To convince the new PI that she might just risk it this one time.
The funding opportunity announcement is from the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) but a long list of ICs are participating, including the brain ICs of greatest interest to YHN. (The quote at the top of this post comes from the announcement.)
The first point of observation is related to my prior post about grant funding. This is not just a Program Announcement which announces an interest of some part of the NIH to see applications on a general topic over the next three year interval without specific funds being earmarked. It is not just a Request for Applications (RFA) which offers dedicated funds, but only lasts for a single receipt date. The PAS is a hybrid of the PA and the RFA in that it offers dedicated funds, typically for the first Fiscal Year (i.e., all three rounds of receipt dates), and then extends like a regular PA for the additional two years.
This one notes:
It is anticipated that $4 million will be available for FY 2011. The total amount awarded and the number of awards will depend upon the number, quality, and costs of the applications received. Awards issued under this FOA are contingent upon the availability of funds and the submission of a sufficient number of meritorious applications.
The NIH R21 grant mechanism offers up to 2 years of funding with no more than $275,000 in direct costs divided across the two years as the PI desires. There is a caveat that no more than $200,000 can be dedicated to either of the years proposed. So let's say the PAS gets all proposals asking for $200,000 in the first year and apply 56% as our overhead estimate. Dividing $4M by $312K, we arrive at almost 13 awards.
The idea is that the stimulation goes far beyond this, of course. You have all those individuals who prepared applications (perhaps including new preliminary data) which were unsuccessful. Many, especially the near-miss ones, will come back in revised form under the regular PA part of the announcement or even under other funding opportunities which might apply to the project. So the potential is much greater than a mere 13 awards spread across all of the participating ICs.
There are some links in the FOA which may be of interest to the more general audience because they provide the rationale for why we need to do better on studying sex-differences in biomedical research.
You might enjoy reading:
The ORWH report, Agenda for Research on Women's Health for the 21st Century
The 2001 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report "Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health, Does Sex Matter?" [National Academy Press version; free for page by page viewing].
As I noted in my original post, the funding of science has a very large influence on what science gets done. Especially for topics that are not considered particularly "hot" or ones that entail additional difficulty above and beyond what might be considered standard approaches. Sadly, studies of the male (in human and in nonhuman research) have a tendency to be the default. This FOA is one positive step to help ameliorate that trend.