A new study by Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy illustrates a disconnect between government funding of biomedical research by young investigators and a novel standard by which to judge it: the Nobel Prize.
The study found the average age of biomedical researchers getting their first grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2008 was 42. Over the past 30 years, the average age of Nobel winners when they performed their groundbreaking research was 41.
That should trouble those concerned about the United States' standing as a biomedical powerhouse, said Kirstin Matthews, first author of a paper published in the open-access journal PloS One by the nonprofit Public Library of Science. As older scientists retire over the next two decades, the nation needs to support the next generation of researchers or risk losing them to more sustainable careers, wrote Matthews and co-authors Vivian Ho, the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics and a professor of economics; recent alumna Kara Calhoun and senior Nathan Lo, all of Rice.
"This is a bit controversial at a time when we're encouraging more people to get into science," said Matthews, a fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute. "The gist is that we're dealing with a shrinking NIH budget; at best, we'll get the same budget year to year, adjusted for inflation. So how can we use the money most effectively?"
The authors of "The Aging of Biomedical Research in the United States" decided to pin their numbers to the Nobel not only for its reputation but for the depth and breadth of its archives. "When we started, Vivian looked at me and said, 'Well, when does innovation happen?' The hardest part was to find a way to look at innovation, and the Nobel awards stand out. The Nobel Prize is one of the few awards that is really consistent.
"We were able to get a good pool of laureates (ultimately 96 who won biomed-
|Contact: David Ruth|