National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
January 13, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 1

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Director's Update

Resource Digs Deep into NCI's Research Funding

Dr. John E. Niederhuber

It is critically important that scientific investments made by NCI be transparent, ensuring accountability of the Institute and providing essential information to the entire cancer community who tirelessly advocate on behalf of patients. Since its creation in 1937, NCI has been tracking its research portfolio and over time has developed a robust system for coding each research project the Institute supports. NCI uses highly trained, experienced indexers who carefully review each grant to ensure that a given project’s scientific contributions are accurately captured, allowing the dollars associated with the project to be assigned to specific categories.

The importance of ensuring that the public has ready access to the scientific investments made by NCI, and the results of those investments, has been articulated in legislation numerous times over the past three decades. While NCI has focused on the rigors of the scientific coding process, the same level of attention was required to report its research investments in a clear and comprehensive manner. To address this, NCI recently launched a newly enhanced Funded Research Portfolio on its Web site.

Since 1998, visitors to NCI’s Web site, Cancer.gov, could search the cancer research investments made by the Institute, but often data had to be obtained from multiple sources. The enhanced portal now provides consolidated information on one site, including funding and other data on NCI’s intramural research program, grants to extramural scientists, and research contracts. The result is significantly improved access to this broader range of data and enhanced user-friendliness of the portal. Users can navigate to the funded research database from various points on NCI’s Web site, including the “Research and Funding” tab along the top of the home page or the “Science Serving People” or “Director’s Corner” portals.

The data can be searched using individual disease categories or conditions, or via a more overarching approach that can include a variety of parameters such as year, disease category, disease condition, key word, etc. Search results include all of the research projects and grants covered by those criteria, with links to the abstracts that outline the methodology and goals of each project or grant.

Users can also select one of two ways to view the output of their searches: a detailed “coding” report that shows all of the codes NCI’s expert indexers used to categorize each research project or grant, or a budget report that reveals the pro-rated funding for each project and the proportional relevance of that research to a given cancer type. In either case, users can then export their reports into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

We are also concentrating our efforts on building analysis tools. One area on which there will be an ongoing focus, for example, is how to both define and incorporate “outcomes” into the research portfolio, including things like published papers, impact factors of publications, grant renewals, and changes to laboratory and clinical practice brought about by these investments. NCI is working with other NIH institutes to understand how they utilize evolving tools to conduct portfolio analysis and to determine if there are ways that we can work collectively to better demonstrate the return on investment for NCI funding.

Finally, let me emphasize that this enhanced resource is a work in progress, and we are integrating feedback from formal user testing sessions into plans for future improvement. We are actively seeking input on how to make the Funded Research Portfolio even more useful and accessible, and we encourage users to submit their comments on this resource to NCIfundedportfolio@mail.nih.gov. We are committed to refining this resource to meet the broad needs of the cancer community and using this tool to better communicate the investments in cancer research being made on behalf of the American people.

I hope you find this tool helpful. We believe it is another important way to connect you with your NCI.

Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute

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