Northwestern Research Funding Surpasses $675 Million

Record-breaking support fuels diverse, high-impact discovery

By Roger AndersonOctober 13, 2017

Northwestern’s sponsored research awards grew to $676.5 million last fiscal year, the largest amount in the University's history and a 4 percent increase over the previous year's record-breaking $649.7 million.

The 2016-17 fiscal year marks the eighth-consecutive year that annual research grants and contracts exceeded a half-billion dollars.

“This continual rise in funding is indicative of the ongoing strength and growth of Northwestern’s thriving research enterprise,” says Jay Walsh, Northwestern’s vice president for research. “Annual research support is instrumental for the University’s high-impact contributions across many different disciplines, including in the biomedical and engineering fields, as well as in an array of other areas across all our Schools.”

Strong proposal activity from the Feinberg School of Medicine resulted in more than $471.7 million dollars of sponsored awards secured by principal investigators at the medical school.

“Feinberg’s remarkable research growth continued last year, despite overall National Institutes of Health funding staying flat for medical schools as a whole,” says Rex Chisholm, associate vice president for research. “We’re proud to say that last year’s funding covered a wide variety of disease-based science and cross-cutting biomedical themes. Our strengths in leveraging big data, reducing health disparities and fundamental science have translated to new techniques and clinical questions that we’re just now beginning to explore.”

Among the 2,061 grants awarded to Feinberg, was the sponsorship of potentially transformative projects by James Griffith, medical social sciences, on reducing assessment barriers for patients with low literacy; Debabrata Chakravarti, obstetrics and gynecology, who is pursuing an integrative genomics, epigenomics, and bioinformatics approach to human uterine fibroids; Justin Starren, preventive medicine, who is investigating ways to improve patient reported outcome data in electronic health records; Richard Gershon, medical social sciences, who is part of the NIH’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Program’s Patient Reported Outcomes Core; and research on HIV by Rich D’Aquila, medicine: infectious diseases; Lifang Hou, preventive medicine; Thomas Hope, cell and molecular biology; and Rob Murphy, medicine: infectious diseases.

Microbiologist Karla Satchell leads the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases (CSGID), which received one of last year’s largest awards: $4.4 million as part of funded by contract HHSN272201700060C, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The CSGID and its sister center, the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease, map the atomic structure of proteins or other molecules that have an important biological role in human pathogens and infectious diseases. The centers are especially focused on emerging and re-emerging diseases such as Ebola, dengue virus, and antimicrobial-resistant pathogens, as well as other organisms responsible for dangerous infectious diseases, such as the Zika virus.

“Northwestern is a major site for protein production, crystallization and structure determination, accounting for about 40 percent of all structures solved by the center,” says Satchell, “Most recently, the center solved structures related to Zika vaccine development and potential new drugs to treat tuberculosis.”

Satchell’s lab on the Chicago campus sits near one of Northwestern’s biggest investments in research, the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center — a 14-story science hub currently under construction that will be connected to the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center in Chicago.

The facility, to be completed in early 2019, will provide laboratories and support space for significant new biomedical research to improve human health through the recruitment of approximately 200 new tenure-track faculty.

Growth of the research ecosystem in Evanston also continued in 2017, most notably with the completed renovation and expansion of Mudd Hall. The project increased research space by 75 percent per floor and added two new floors to the original building. The J Wing of the Technological Institute hosted a ribbon cutting for the expansion of the Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology in August and the expansion and modernization of the Electronics Shop and Research Shop recently opened 7,500 square feet of fabrication space on campus.

Northwestern faculty across all Schools continue to gain national recognition for their research, having received numerous highly prestigious honors last fiscal year. For example, Heather Pinkett, molecular biosciences, will use her Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award to pursue research that advances children’s health. The recognition marks the fourth consecutive year that a researcher affiliated with Northwestern has received this honor from The Hartwell Foundation.

Claude-Andre Faucher-Giguere, physics and astronomy, was one of four faculty to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award in 2017, along with Antonio Auffinger, mathematics; Neda Bagheri, chemical and biological engineering; and Aravindan Vijayaraghavan, electrical engineering and computer science. CAREER Awards are the NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty.

Danna Freedman, chemistry, received a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2017. The PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the US government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Northwestern’s more than 50 University Research Centers and Institutes (URIC) accounted for $55 million in funding last fiscal year. The 3 percent increase in funding coincided with a 24 percent rise in awards (189). Among the largest awards was a $4.2 million grant to principal investigator Ken Shull, materials science and engineering, at the Materials Research Center. Shull will use the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education award to collaborate with partners in France, Italy, and the Netherlands. The project will examine historic art objects by developing computational and experimental tools to understand property degradation over long periods of time.

“The continual growth in funding for University Research Institutes and Centers is a testimony to the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the research at Northwestern,” says Fruma Yehiely, associate vice president for research. “The largest five awards to URICs reflect the breadth and depth of the nationally competitive programs that are taking place in the URICs, as well as the diversity of funding sponsors.” (See “URIC Awards” sidebar for details.)

The dollar volume of proposals submitted in fiscal year 2017 was $2.8 billion, an increase of nearly 10 percent compared to the previous year. The number of proposals submitted (3,502) was nearly identical.

The dollar volume of proposals submitted to federal agencies increased 5 percent ($108.4 million), while proposals to industrial sponsors increased 22 percent ($18.3 million). Proposal activity to other non-federal sponsors increased 65 percent ($117.8 million).

The dollar volume of awards from federal agencies to Northwestern decreased 4 percent ($17.8 million). Awards from industrial sponsors increased 26 percent ($23.7 million). Foundation funding increased 50 percent ($11.1 million).

The substantial increase in funding from foundations reflects several unusually large grants from long-term partners of the University, including the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust’s five-year renewal of the Chicago Biomedical Consortium; two awards to leading scientists (Chad Mirkin, chemistry, and Monica Olvera de la Cruz, materials science and engineering) from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation; and two grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research and an international partnership on Critical Theory in the Global South.

“Each of these awards came about because of Northwestern’s outstanding research strengths, as well as because of the generous involvement of University leaders, including President Schapiro, then-Provost Linzer, Vice President for Research Jay Walsh, and Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development Robert McQuinn,” says Sarah Fodor, executive director of foundation and corporate relations. “Also key to this success is Northwestern’s culture of collaboration, reflected in both internal and external partnerships.”

Topics: