Radiology research funding has ballooned over past 20 years, but allocation questions linger

Funding for research published in major radiology journals has markedly increased over the past two decades, with nearly half of such academic articles now declaring financing.

That’s according to a Sept. 3 report published in the American Journal of Roentgenology. Dutch investigators noted that only 17% of studies received monetary backing in 1994, while 26.9% did so during a near decade-long period ending in 2010.

First author of the AJR investigation, Rayan H. Alkhawtani, with University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, and colleagues found that funding, however, had no association with citation rate. The latter is a key metric used to determine which projects are influencing the field.

“To our knowledge, there has been no recent investigation of the status of radiology research funding and whether funded radiology research has a higher citation rate than non-funded research,” the authors added. “This information may be valuable to both researchers and funding organizations that plan to generate and disseminate the most impactful research in radiology.”

In 1994, many experts expressed concerns regarding the low dollar amounts being funneled into rad research. Ultimately, they put out a call to reverse this trend and advance the specialty.

With this in mind, Alkhawtani and colleagues analyzed 600 consecutive original articles published between January and October 2016. They included publications from AJR, Radiology, and European Radiology.

In total, 47.7% of all articles declared funding, with federally backed research (29.4%) accounting for the largest chunk of the pie. Following closely behind was nonprofit foundation financing (16.4%), both federal and nonprofit sponsorship (16.1%), private industry (10.1%), intramural institutional backing (9.8%) and other combinations (18.2%).

Additionally, vascular and interventional radiology articles, those published in AJR, and research with a first author from Europe were more often unfunded, the investigators found. Peer-reviewed documents published in Radiology, meanwhile, were more frequently funded.

Articles with money behind them were also often freely available.

The citation rate did not differ much between funded and unfunded research, which did draw criticism from Alkhawtani et al. The authors also noted only including research published in three top journals did limit their findings.

“To our knowledge, the present study is the first to investigate the association between study funding and the citation rate in the field of radiology.

We found that funded articles did not have a higher citation rate and that they also were not downloaded more frequently,” the authors added. “This raises the question of whether funding sources currently allocate their financial resources to the best radiology research projects (i.e., projects that potentially have the highest impact on the improvement of healthcare).”