Inside Ellison's Scientific Advisory Board

As of November 2013, the Ellison Medical Foundation is no longer pursuing biomedical grantmaking. Please read our article about the foundation's sudden announcement here.

Rather than encumber itself with a huge program staff, the Ellison Medical Foundation (EMF) accomplishes most of its grantmaking through a six-person Scientific Advisory Board, which is in charge of reviewing all prospective grantees. (See Ellison Medical Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment.) To secure funding from EMF, grantseekers must have a firm grasp on the organization's values and priorities; read on to learn about the Scientific Advisory Board and what makes its members tick.

The founding chairman of EMF's Scientific Advisory Board was Joshua Lederberg, PhD (1925-2008), and the caliber of the man set the tone for all other advisory board members to come. He was an unflappably brilliant and gifted scientist who earned his PhD from Yale in 1948 and 10 years later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his exhaustive work in understanding the genetic design and function of microorganisms. All this occurred a scant seven years after the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. Lederberg was extensively involved in artificial intelligence research during the 1970s and served as a consultant for the WHO's Advisory Health Research Council. He earned the U.S. National Medal of Science in 1989.

EMF's current Scientific Advisory Board members are similarly accomplished and decorated. Their biographies read like bucket lists of scientific awards and nominations; they hold multiple professorships and multiple directorships, often from Ivy League institutions. And like Lederberg, the board members have diverse and cutting-edge professional interests. Board Chairman Arnold J. Levine, PhD, was even one of the codiscoverers of p53, a key tumor-suppressing protein.

In short, the scientists who sit on this board are looking for grantseekers with a comparable level of knowledge, ambition, and creativity. They can size up both the science in the funding applications and — thanks to their extensive experience in directing and administrating academic programs — the organizational heft behind each potential grantee. It would be easy to let the laid-back, liberal attitude put forth on EMF's website dupe you into assuming you can take the grant application process lightly. Sure, EMF isn't looking for a 40-page application, but bear in mind that your research needs to make it past a six-man team of extremely accomplished scientists to secure funding. (Read Ellison Medical Foundation Executive Director Kevin Lee's IP profile.)