The Foundation Route
Jeremy Herskowitz, Ph.D., said he turned to the BrightFocus Foundation (formerly American Health Assistance Foundation), which awarded him a $100,000 research fellowship while a postdoc. Over 21 months ending December 31, 2012, he studied the function of protein LR11 (also called SorLA) with mentor James Lah, M.D., Ph.D., of Emory University, to learn more about the underlying brain cellular mechanisms by which LR11 may influence the onset and progress of Alzheimer's disease.
Now a junior faculty member at Emory’s Department of Neurology, and searching for a tenure-track position, Dr. Herskowitz went on to win NIH funding—not an R01, but a Pathway to Independence Award, nicknamed “kangaroo” because of its code number K99/R00. The award is designed to help postdocs transition to a stable independent research position with NIH or other independent research funding—as well as bring down the average age for first-time R01 winners.
“I still didn’t get that money until about nine months after I submitted it, and that was the best possible situation I can get, because I got it on the first try. You can't run out of money in the interim,” Dr. Herskowitz said. “It's a real pressurized situation, because you've got to apply for the grant at the right time, so that new money will kick in, if you get it, before the old money runs out.”
Also going the foundation route was James L. (Jay) Morris, Ph.D., assistant professor/research at University of Texas Health Sciences Center San Antonio (UTHSCSA). He told GEN he worked closely with the center’s Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, and other foundations—he won’t say which ones—to secure grants or donated program funds.
Through a collaboration partner, Morris connected with a foundation that agreed to fund a pilot project and initial testing of an experimental compound from nature that shows some promise as a potential therapy.
“After the funding cycle we are working them for possibly a longer term relationship on this project,” Dr. Morris said. “Sometimes these foundations have smaller submission requirements, either timelines, or budgets, or even application length or preliminary data. For early stage investigation or side projects which might lead to bigger grants, this type of money is valuable to a lab. This process has helped us to keep some projects going.”
Dr. Morris has continued his postdoctoral research even as his lab moved to UTHSCSA when his PI, Michael Wargovich, Ph.D., F.A.C.N., became co-leader of the Cancer Prevention & Population Science program at UTHSCSA’s Cancer Therapy and Research Center. Given the move, and the realization that his time would be better spent wrapping up research, packing the lab, finishing off papers, and setting up a lab, Dr. Morris held off pursuing further fellowships like the T32 he had as a postdoc.
“After that, trying to obtain further fellowships was a series of rejections. Either the research was not a good fit, or there were too many applications for too few awards,” Dr. Morris said. “Later this year I will resume my quest for funding. Given the tough nature of the funding world I will explore all options, not just the usual route of NIH, NSF, et cetera.”