Neurosurgeons play an important role in advancing medicine through research, the funding of which is historically linked to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The authors defined variables associated with neurosurgical NIH funding, prevalence of funded topics by neurosurgical subspecialty, and temporal trends in NIH neurosurgical funding.
The authors conducted a retrospective review of NIH-funded American Association of Neurological Surgeons members using NIH RePORTER (http://report.nih.gov/) for the years 1991–2015.
The authors followed 6515 neurosurgeons from 1991 to 2015, including 6107 (94%) non–MD-PhD physicians and 408 (6%) MD-PhDs. NIH grants were awarded to 393 (6%) neurosurgeons, with 23.2% of all first-time grants awarded to the top 5 funded institutions. The average total funded grant-years per funded neurosurgeon was 12.5 (range 1–85 grant-years). A higher percentage of MD-PhDs were NIH funded than MDs (22% [n = 91] vs 5% [n = 297], p < 0.0001). The most common grants awarded were R01 (128, 33%), K08 (69, 18%), F32 (60, 15%), M01 (50, 13%), and R21 (39, 10%). F32 and K08 recipients were 9-fold (18% vs 2%, p < 0.001) and 19-fold (38% vs 2%, p < 0.001) more likely to procure an R01 and procured R01 funding earlier in their careers (F32: 7 vs 12 years after residency, p = 0.03; K08: 9 vs 12 years, p = 0.01). Each year, the number of neurosurgeons with active grants linearly increased by 2.2 (R2 = 0.81, p < 0.001), whereas the number of total active grants run by neurosurgeons increased at nearly twice the rate (4.0 grants/year) (R2 = 0.91, p < 0.001). Of NIH-funded neurosurgical grants, 33 (9%) transitioned to funded clinical trial(s). Funded neurosurgical subspecialties included neuro-oncology (33%), functional/epilepsy (32%), cerebrovascular (17%), trauma (10%), and spine (6%). Finally, the authors modeled trends in the number of active training grants and found a linear increase in active R01s (R2 = 0.95, p < 0.001); however, both F32 (R2 = 0.36, p = 0.01) and K08 (R2 = 0.67, p < 0.001) funding had a significant parabolic rise and fall centered around 2003.
The authors observed an upward trend in R01s awarded to neurosurgeons during the last quarter century. However, their findings of decreased K08 and F32 training grant funding to neurosurgeons and the impact of these training grants on the ultimate success and time to success for neurosurgeons seeking R01 funding suggests that this upward trend in R01 funding for neurosurgeons will be difficult to maintain. The authors’ work underscores the importance of continued selection and mentorship of neurosurgeons capable of impacting patient care through research, including the MD-PhDs, who are noted to be more represented among NIH-funded neurosurgeons.