PAF: Brain Science Research

by egastfriend1 min read19th Apr 2020No comments



These are the Executive Summaries of two final reports from a Philanthropy Advisory Fellowship project to research strategy and best practices for funding research in brain science. This research was conducted on behalf of PAF client One Mind.

Gap Analysis: Summary of Findings

By Melanie Basnak (team leader), Elaine Fisher, Sourabh Harihar, Flora Or

The full report is available here.

The experts we have interviewed, along with the literature we have reviewed, and the database analyses we have conducted have helped us come up with some general conclusions and recommendations. We believe that philanthropists could have the most impact with their donations by investing in two ends of the spectrum. On one hand, it could be very beneficial to invest in pilot studies of innovative approaches with clear outcome measures. Since the NIH requires pilot data as part of the funding application, investing in these studies could enable investigators to apply for further NIH funding and thus yield multiplicative effects. A type of study that could be particularly helpful in covering NIH gaps but would require more donors funding are larger longitudinal studies. On the other hand, a second gap seems to be in the implementation side, which is not usually funded by the NIH. Of particular use could be investing in approaches that target increasing the well-being at a population level. This could be cost-effective considering that some of these measures might be very cheap to implement per person, and thus the same amount of money could be directed to many people. By increasing the overall well-being by way of social, physical, and environmental factors, the entire population will experience lowered risks of mental illness. Since the majority of the disease is represented by people with low and moderate risks, a small reduction of population risks would dramatically reduce disease burden (this is Geoffrey Rose’s Prevention Paradox). These interventions would help fill the gap currently seen in research/approaches to tackle the prevention and early intervention across mental illnesses, that are currently underfunded when looking at figures from the NIMH and also at Medicaid/Medicare.

Grant Reviewer Instructions: Summary

By Paul Oyler-Castrillo (team leader), Eric Gastfriend, Santhi Hariprasad, Gabrielle Molina, Kai Sandbrink

The full report is available here.

This document serves as a template of instructions to provide to scientific research grant reviewers. It covers the scientific literature on bias in science funding and best practices in grantmaking.

Topics covered:

  • “People not Projects”: Enable researchers to take risks
  • Hidden Biases
    • Researcher Age: Funders may be overvaluing the achievement of older researchers and undervaluing the potential of younger researchers.
    • Team Size: Research team size has increased dramatically over the past 40 years.
    • Prestige: By objective metrics, such as publications and citation impact, grants go further in less favored institutions.
    • Award Size: A broad-strokes analysis found that productivity (in terms of citations produced) peaks at approx. $400K per investigator.
    • Gender: NIH funding has been found to have a significant gender gap.
    • Race: NIH grants have also been found to have a racial disparity.
  • Scorecard: We outline the design of a scorecard for brain research grant applications, covering the following categories.
    • Point System
    • Investigator(s)
    • Disease Area Neglectedness
    • Cost-Effectiveness of Research
    • Scientific and Technical Merit

Please contact if you would like more detailed information contained in our research.


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