Table 1

Cross-section of initiatives and associated funding opportunities to support innovative, multidisciplinary, and nontraditional research.

Bioengineering Research Partnerships
In recognizing the importance of bioengineering in public health, NIH developed the Bioengineering Research Partnerships (8), Bioengineering Research Grants (9), and Exploratory/Developmental Bioenginnering Research Grants (10) program announcements. The primary objectives of these programs are to encourage basic, applied, and translational or clinical bioengineering research that could make an important contribution to improving human health. Bioengineering integrates physical, engineering, and computational science principles for the study of biology, medicine, behavior, or health, with the aim of developing innovative biologicals, materials, processes, implants, devices, and informatics approaches for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, for patient rehabilitation, and for improving health.
Transformative R01 Awards
The Common Fund’s NIH Director’s Transformative Research Projects Program (11) was specifically created to support exceptionally innovative, high-risk, original, and/or unconventional research projects that have the potential to create or overturn fundamental paradigms. These projects tend to be inherently risky but if successful can profoundly affect a broad area of biomedical research. As compared with the other NIH Director’s Programs, the Pioneer and New Innovator Awards, the primary emphasis of the Transformative Research Projects Program is on funding creative ideas—providing adequate support for projects that have the potential to transform a field of science—rather than funding creative individuals who have proven themselves to be innovative researchers to go in a new pioneering direction.
NIH Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator Awards
NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards (12) are designed to support individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering—and possibly transforming—approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research. The term “pioneering” is used to describe highly innovative approaches that have the potential to produce an unusually high impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research. Biomedical and behavioral research is defined broadly by this initiative as encompassing scientific investigations into the biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences that have the greatest potential to improve the public health. The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award Program (13) is a high-risk research (14) initiative of the larger NIH Common Fund. The research proposed for a New Innovator Award may be in any scientific area relevant to NIH’s mission (biological, behavioral, clinical, social, physical, chemical, computational, engineering, and mathematical sciences) and thus need not be in a conventional biomedical or behavioral discipline. The focus is on innovation and potential impact.
The EUREKA program funds exceptionally innovative research that if successful will have an unusually high impact. EUREKA targets investigators who are testing new, unconventional hypotheses or are pursuing major methodological or technical challenges. The potential impact of the proposed research must be substantial in terms of both the size of the scientific community affected and the magnitude of its impact on the community. A specific feature of the EUREKA program includes a specialized R01 application focusing on importance and innovation (15).
Global Health Initiatives
The Fogarty International Center at NIH recently launched the Global Infectious Disease Research Training Program. This collaborative research training program is aimed at strengthening the capacity of institutions in low- and middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank classification system (16), to conduct infectious-disease research training programs focused on major endemic or life-threatening emerging infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, widespread co-infections of HIV/AIDS patients, or infections associated with noncommunicable disease conditions of poverty in developing countries (17).
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Innovation Awards
Although not an NIH-affiliated initiative, SU2C (18) awarded its first 13 Innovative Research Grants in December of 2009 to support cutting-edge cancer research that might not receive funding through traditional channels. These Innovative Research Grants support early-career scientists with new ideas characterized by a strong potential to affect patient care, projects that are thus high-risk but that could also potentially be high-impact. In this manner, SU2C supports research similar to that supported by some of the NIH programs described above.
Recognizing the need to reevaluate the way the United States spurs innovation, the National Academies released a 2006 report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” that included the recommendation to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) within the U.S. Department of Energy (19, 20). This agency was charged with attracting many of the United States’ best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers and especially those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world—to focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support because of its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation, thus creating a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development and industrial innovation. The current Director of the ARPA-E program is in fact a former NCI/NIH IMAT program grantee (21, 22).