National Institutes of Health Funding in Plastic Surgery: A Crisis?

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Background:Decreasing funding rates and increasing competition for National Institutes of Health research grants have prompted diverse interventions in various fields of biomedicine. Currently, the state of National Institutes of Health funding for plastic surgery research is poorly understood. The purpose of this study was to describe the portfolio of National Institutes of Health grants in academic plastic surgery.Methods:Plastic surgery faculty at integrated and independent programs were queried individually in the National Institutes of Health RePORTER database for grants awarded in 2014. Funding totals, mechanisms, and institutes were calculated. Abstracts were categorized by research type and field of interest. Characteristics of National Institutes of Health–funded principal investigators were elucidated.Results:Eight hundred sixty-one academic plastic surgeons at 94 programs were queried, and only 18 investigators (2.1 percent) were funded at 12 programs (12.8 percent). National Institutes of Health–funded investigators were predominately male (72 percent), fellowship-trained (61 percent), and aged 49.3 ± 7.8 years. A total of 20 awards amounted to $6,916,886, with an average award of $345,844 ± $222,909. Costs were primarily awarded through the R01 mechanism (77.2 percent). The top three National Institutes of Health institutes awarded 72.9 percent of the entire portfolio. Funding supported clinical (41.1 percent), translational (36.9 percent), and basic science (22.0 percent) research. Craniofacial (20.5 percent), hand (18.7 percent), and breast (16.2 percent) had the greatest funding.Conclusions:Few programs and faculty drive the National Institutes of Health portfolio of plastic surgery research. These data suggest a tenuous funding situation that may be susceptible to future spending cuts. Future research is needed to identify barriers to National Institutes of Health funding procurement in academic plastic surgery.

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