Stanford nets stimulus dollars for rad research

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has granted $6.9 million in federal economic stimulus funding to Stanford University School of Medicine for 18 projects that had been previously stalled due to budget shortfalls, such as new radiotherapy (RT) or MRI research.

According to the university, 11 of the newly funded projects had been peer-reviewed and approved but had not received funding. Another six involved supplemental grants to existing projects. And in one case, the NIH awarded $500,000 to a researcher to buy two photon microscopes that will be shared with other laboratories.

"This is a lifesaver," said Francis Blankenberg, MD, associate professor of radiology and of pediatrics, who received $655,000 in stimulus funds. "It really stabilizes the lab."

Blankenberg and colleagues are studying a new RT approach to targeting breast and colon tumors. The technique uses a radiolabeled form of a protein, called the vascular endothelial growth factor, to selectively target and destroy tumor vessels along with the tumor itself. The researchers initially had applied for a grant in 2007 and, after two more resubmissions, received a score in the 21 st percentile. The cutoff was at the 15 th percentile.

"In the old days, they probably would have funded it," he said, but the project remained temporarily sidelined by the stiff competition for limited NIH money. The money will pay for two postdoctoral scholars, as well as Blankenberg and a part-time faculty member.

Philip Pizzo, MD, the dean of the School of Medicine, said the stimulus funding is critical to the healthcare reform effort because of the linkage between research and medical care.

Roland Bammer, MD, an assistant professor of radiology, said his $790,000 grant under the program was a "big relief."

"This was the application that was dearest to my heart, but I had difficulty funding it," he said. "The NIH budget went down roughly 10 percent, so 90 out of 100 grant proposals were rejected in the past. It was tough."

Bammer will use the funds for a project aimed at improving the technology involved in diffusion tensor imaging, which provides more detailed information about the brain and other body structures, such as the heart and prostate, than traditional MRI. It can be used to detect early strokes, as well as brain tumors and other brain abnormalities, he said.

Bammer said the stimulus funding will enable him to pay the salaries of several full- and part-time employees.