The Young Investigator Investment: Committing to the Future

Text "Committing to the future" with a ladder to the side

The mission of the Lung Association is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. Research is vital to that mission. Scientific and medical discoveries can lead to better detection, treatments and quality of life for those living with lung disease. Through the Awards and Grants program, our pledge to the future of lung health research is demonstrated, as investing in young investigators is key to gaining a long-term commitment to lung disease research.

What Is A Young Investigator?

"Young investigator" status is not based on a researcher's actual age, but the years past a terminal degree (highest possible degree in a specific discipline), academic position or title, type and value of their funding history—it is a career stage. For example, a researcher who is a few years out from receiving a PhD, has the academic position of a post-doc or assistant professor and hasn't yet received a multi-year, million dollar plus research grant is considered a young investigator.

Young or early-career investigators are projected as the innovators of the future, ushering in advanced ideas, new technologies and original methods. However, they remain an underfunded group by the government funding bodies—resulting in fierce competition to be recognized and supported, as resources are scarce. Because of this imbalance, many young researchers abandon academic research altogether, or continually shift research interests to maximize their funding potential1. The Lung Association funding fills that gap, providing an essential "career ladder" to keep them on a path of lung health research.

Bridging the Gap with Seed Funding

Research is both risky and expensive. For over 100 years, the Lung Association has been providing initial start-up or "seed funding" for outstanding researchers and ideas. Evaluating and investing in a scientist's potential is critical to ensuring that there is a continual cohort of lung disease experts. It is in our collective best interest that the brightest, most motivated young investigators use their considerable skills and talents to pursue our shared vision of a world free of lung disease.

The support of young researchers reflects the Lung Association's funding reality two-fold. First, we are a donation-supported organization and we are subject to the same changing economic winds that impact citizens, corporations and governments. The decision to fund in the early-career space over, say, drug development (which is costly, protracted research that requires a long-term commitment to a single project) allows us to remain nimble during periods of economic instability. Second, in order for our research to address the vastly different lung diseases within the American Lung Association's mission, we maintain a rich and diverse research portfolio. To balance the breadth of the Lung Association research program, grant amounts are relatively low (on a scale that includes multi-million dollar clinical trials), however, perfect for early-career investigators, proof-of-concept and pilot studies type research.

Invaluable Opportunity

It is a career-defining moment for young researcher to receive a first, multi-year award that guarantees laboratory time. It is expected from that moment on that the results from the research will yield publications, presentations, additional funding and a firm foothold in the scientific community. Lung Association grant recipients describe their award as "invaluable" and acknowledge that the young investigator funding is a pivotal career moment.

"I would not have a career in lung-related research without the American Lung Association support," says Jerry Eu, MD, Program Director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The Lung Association is proud to be the career-ladder for over 1,500 researchers advancing scientific discoveries and producing breakthroughs that improve the quality of life for people living with lung disease.

1. http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2013/09/24/one-nation-in-support-of-biomedical-research/

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Related Topics: Research, Impact,

  • Alexandra Sierra
    Director, Nationwide Research Program
    American Lung Association
    Alexandra Sierra is the Director of the American Lung Association Nationwide Research Program, where she oversees the Lung Association's two distinct research programs—the Awards and Grants Program and the Airways Clinical Research Centers Network.

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