How the Rita Allen Foundation Helps Rookie Medical Researchers Reach the Big Leagues

Hey, young scientists: Interested in a career in biomedical research? Great! We need you to come up with new treatments for the horrible diseases we'll all inevitably get. But get ready to face a long apprenticeshipeven after all those years of work for your M.D.s, Ph.D.s and post-doc fellowships.  

The federal government's National Institutes of Healthwhich provides the most important funding for the costly, large-scale and multi-year studies that must take place between initial idea and approved treatmenthas long been aware of the need to bring younger researchers along faster. In response, they have established policies and programs specifically to nurture early-career scientists, and help them reach the point where they can win the big NIH Research Project Grants (the R01, to those in the business) that mark the mature phase of their professional lives as principal investigators, running laboratories and making the discoveries that are the reason they got into the business in the first place.

Unfortunately, the NIH acknowledges, despite their efforts, the average age at which researchers get their first R01 grant has not decreased over the last several decades. In other words, it still takes too long to advance newer scientists to the major leagues.

Fortunately, some private funders have been stepping in to help, as we've often reported. Notable among them is the Rita Allen Foundation, which recently announced its 2015 class of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars. The seven early-career biomedical scientists will receive grants of up to $110,000 per year for a maximum of five years to conduct innovative research on brain development, antiviral immunity, gene regulation mechanisms, and the interplay of cancer, inflammation and chronic pain.

Since 1976, the Princeton-based foundation says, they've funded nearly 150 early-stages scientists, helping launch productive scientific careers. Foundation scholars have won the Nobel Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. 

“By investing in outstanding biomedical scientists at the early stages of their careers, we are providing resources to these Scholars to pioneer new approaches and discoveries,” said Elizabeth Christopherson, President and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation.

This year's scholars came from Columbia University, Northwestern University, Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, and New York University.

Five of the scholars were nominated by research institutions in the United States and selected by the Rita Allen Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee of leading scientists and clinicians. Two of the scholars were selected for the Rita Allen Foundation Award in Pain in partnership with the American Pain Society.