|Stanley M. Spinola, MD, has racked up about $30 million in grant funding since he started working at Indiana University School of Medicine in 1993, but he says the last $5.1 million wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Indiana CTSI’s Project Development Teams.
Spinola is the chair for the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. He usually runs his NIH grant proposals past an informal network of colleagues so they can help him look for issues before submission, but after that, he seeks advice from the PDT as well. In the last few years, the PDT has helped him get two different projects funded that were originally not discussed by NIH study sections.
Early last year, Spinola proposed a grant to figure out what causes leg ulcers in children in the tropics. After his NIH proposal was not discussed, the PDT helped him craft a revision. The PDT focused on a rewrite of his introduction. That revised proposal was approved for $1.9 million in NIH funding last July.
“I found their wordsmithing of the introduction was the critical factor in getting that grant funded,” said Spinola.
Lane Coffee, PhD, MS, works as the program manager for the PDTs and says the diverse panels help prepare investigators for facing NIH study sections. It’s meant to be a one-stop-shop, where investigators can get advice to help them develop their ideas. The PDTs can also connect investigators with other resources (including biostatistics, regulatory support and additional collaborators) to help them reach their goals, including being more competitive in their grant applications. During the in-person meeting with the PDTs, investigators present a project and the PDTs provide both verbal and written feedback.
“I think the PDT process is great for investigators because it gives them the opportunity to present and discuss their project with scientists from diverse backgrounds,” said Coffee, who is also an Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine.
For a different proposal, Spinola wanted to investigate how a bacteria (called Haemophilus ducreyi), a major cause of childhood leg ulcers, and the human host altered their gene transcription in response to each other by infecting human volunteers with the bacteria (using a process that is regulated by the FDA). Spinola’s idea was not discussed by the NIH in November 2017 and he went to the PDT to get feedback.
In addition to offering advice, the PDT provided seed money to help Spinola answer the critique. Spinola infected people with the bacteria in 2018, performed RNA sequencing and metabolomics. After analyzing his new data, he presented the second revision to the PDT in January and they offered several more important organizational suggestions. When Spinola went back to the NIH in March, the panel gave his grant a fundable score. Because of that, he’s expecting to receive $3.2 million in September. Spinola has taken the PDT seed money and received more than a 100 to one return on that investment.
“I think there’s an impression on the campus that the PDTs are mostly for junior faculty,” said Spinola. “I think the PDTs are underutilized, particularly by senior faculty. As long as you have a fixable grant, it doesn’t matter whether it was close to the funding line or not. If the PDT sees it as fixable, they will help you intellectually or resource-wise or both.”
More than 650 investigators have used the PDT program since 2008. About half of those were assistant professors. The other half was a combination of full professors and associate professors. Coffee says the PDTs can provide pilot funds for investigator projects, typically in the range of $10,000-15,000.
Spinola has earned grant money every year since 1986 and is now funded through 2024. He says that he’s grateful for the opportunities, especially with the ways the PDT has helped him.
“I think they’re an invaluable resource,” said Spinola. “If you can’t convince your friends, how are you going to convince your frenemies (people who have no relationship with you and who may be armed to be critical of what you’re doing)?”
If you’re interested in finding out more about the PDT program and how it can benefit your research, contact Lane Coffee by email or phone: 317-278-2150.