Faculty at the Yale School of Public Health were awarded more than $60 million in research grants in the 2021 fiscal year, further powering the school’s leadership in major science areas.
The research funding, a modest increase over the previous fiscal year, continues the school’s steady upward trend in research growth. Much of the funding came from the National Institutes of Health, which is the U.S. government’s primary agency responsible for biomedical and public health research. The NIH consists of 27 institutes and centers, including the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMN) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
“To have an increase year over year is great,” said YSPH Associate Dean of Research Melinda Irwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Yale’s Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases). “As we continue to shift to more team-based science in addition to individual awards, we expect this upward trend will not only continue, but accelerate.”
With this financial support, researchers at YSPH led critical investigations into some of the most significant public health questions and concerns of 2021 including infectious diseases, climate change, cancer, cardiovascular disease, structural and social determinants of health, and health care policy and management.
YSPH scientists’ studies also drew praise from their peers. Three research publications in which YSPH faculty were key authors were identified as being among the best papers of 2021 by two leading science publications (Annals of Internal Medicine and Health Affairs) and The Commonwealth Fund.
Faculty researchers aren’t the only ones who benefit from these successes, Irwin said. YSPH students do as well as they are either actively involved in important research as a member of a team or learning from experienced faculty who are deeply engaged in significant scientific investigations.
“Our primary focus is to do research, and doing so makes us a better school,” Irwin said. “If we’re teaching in our area of expertise, we are experts in that topic, and we’re teaching it from an evidence-based perspective.”
YSPH holds a number of NIH Training grants (T32s), which provide tuition and stipend support for pre- and post-doctoral students and fellows. Training programs in HIV prevention, cancer prevention and control, alcohol-related research, health services research and implementation science are all active training programs at YSPH.
Research grants come in many different forms and are used for many different purposes. The most common grant that researchers receive from the NIH – the highly competitive and hypothesis-driven R01 grant – supports mature research projects that have strong preliminary data and are led by independent investigators. Twenty-nine of these grants, which can provide financial support for up to five years, were awarded to YSPH researchers during the 2021 fiscal year.
Scientists use grant funding for a variety of purposes. Grants allow faculty to probe new areas of research, continue existing research and launch collaborations with other research teams. Grant money also helps scientists hire students to support a scientific endeavor, and grants are particularly important to junior faculty seeking to kickstart their research careers. In all, YSPH received 63 grants from the NIH in fiscal 2021, totaling more than $26 million.
To Irwin, the NIH funding YSPH researchers received under the P30 label is particularly important. These types of grants go to broad, center-based collaborations that may contain several investigative teams, all focused on a specific issue. In fiscal 2021, a P30 grant was awarded to The Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA), a Yale-based group of scientists from 25 different disciplines and three institutions focused on treating and preventing HIV and eliminating disparities associated with the virus.
“In our next five years, my goal is that each of our 18 YSPH-based research centers has a center grant affiliated with it,” Irwin said.
Grant awards from institutions and organization other than the NIH amounted to just over $34 million in fiscal 2021. Most of these grants came from public and private foundations, nonprofit organizations, foreign governments and other entities such as the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
Of the 192 total awards received by YSPH faculty in fiscal 2021, 59 involved research into infectious diseases – a telling sign, Irwin said, of the school’s innovative work and steadfast commitment to eliminating the scourge of diseases destroying lives around the globe. An additional 19 grant awards targeted cancer and 17 awards targeted health equity and community-engaged research. Ten awards focused on maternal-child health and nine focused on older populations.
“This breakdown of grant awards allows us to see where our research depth and breadth is, but it also allows us to plan ahead,” said Irwin. “For instance, we might want to think about recruiting more in a specific space if that space is identified as an important area needing immediate attention, such as what we saw with COVID-19 and vaccines.”
The top 10 combined research funding awards for fiscal 2021 were:
- $4,333,056 to Linda M. Niccolai, Emerging Infections Programs, Connecticut Department of Public Health
- $4,100,000 to Hongyu Zhao, Biomedical Data Science, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals
- $3,175,091 to Dr. Albert Ko, Data Integration & Analytics, Connecticut Department of Public Health
- $2,011,208 to Rafael Perez-Escamilla, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Centers for Disease Control
- $1,874,912 to Yize Zhao, Novel Integrative Imaging, National Institute on Aging
- $1,518,362 to Trace Kershaw, Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, National Institute of Mental Health
- $1,343,025 to Paul Cleary, Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
- $1,111,505 to Andrew DeWan, Pleiotropic Omics Data, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- $1,084,937 to Dr. Albert Ko, SARS-CoV-2 Variant Sequencing, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals $1,078,285 to Alison Galvani, Outbreak Detection, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases