A Community Foundation That's Moving Grant Money to Local Medical Researchers

 photo: Jarun Ontakrai/shutterstock

photo: Jarun Ontakrai/shutterstock

The Rhode Island Foundation is awarding nearly $340,000 in seed funding to 16 promising medical research project in the state. The grants are designed to help local early-career researchers advance projects to the point that they can compete for national funding. The work ranges from developing data that could lead to breakthroughs in treating chronic Lyme disease to determining the impact of healthy diets on diabetes. A full list of grants with details of the research can be found here.

We don't see many community foundations prioritize medical research, which is more typically funded by national foundations and major philanthropists. But the Rhode Island Foundation has been working to catalyze and guide donor activity in this space since 2008, awarding nearly $2.5 million in medical research seed funding in the past decade.

This latest funding came through 20 endowments at the foundation that help medical researchers in Rhode Island land grants from national grantmakers. “We are grateful that our generous donors provide the crucial source of seed funding that enables local researchers to pursue promising medical advances,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the foundation’s president and CEO. “Our hope is that their successes will bring about healthier lives as well as a healthier economy.”

The new funding for Lyme research is tackling a disease that looms large in the state. Rhode Island ranks fifth nationally in Lyme incidence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New England is a hotspot for tick-borne illnesses due to its proximity to water sources, and Rhode Island towns that are expanding into wooded areas are at particularly high risk for tick infestation, according to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).

With an estimated 240,000 to 440,000 new cases of the tick-borne illness diagnosed every year, Lyme disease costs over $1.3 billion annually, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. While many patients recover shortly after antibiotic treatment, some continue to experience symptoms such as fatigue, pain and cognitive disruptions for years after initial treatment. Further, due to incidence reports from state health departments, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is committing more than 20 years to Lyme disease as a research topic.

Some 20 internal endowments provided the funds for this latest round of grants. Since 2008, the foundation has awarded nearly $2.5 million for medical research seed funding. The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.