VA research funding continues to rise at UNMC

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC strategic communications | September 04, 2020

Despite the pandemic, UNMC's research funding continues to rise, including Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding to UNMC.

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Frederick Hamel, PhD

VA research funding to UNMC faculty increased 23% from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020. Funding totaled $3,838,358 awarded to 16 UNMC faculty during FY20. The funding, which is made directly to the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System, is in addition to the record $174 million research funding to UNMC from other external sources announced recently.

UNMC and the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System have had a close association for decades.

"VA research helps strengthen clinical care and is another funding source for dual-appointed faculty," said Frederick Hamel, PhD, associate chief of staff of research at the Omaha VA Medical Center and professor, UNMC section of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism in the department of internal medicine. "Merit funding is like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) RO1 grant in prominence and funding. The VA funds research particularly important to veterans that also applies to the general population such as aging issues, brain trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder."

Over the past two years, the number of VA-funded UNMC principal investigators has increased 33% -- from 12 to 16, said Dr. Hamel, including several new recruits that also serve in leadership roles at UNMC. They are:

  • Merry Lindsey, PhD, chair in the department of cellular and integrative physiology;
  • Peter Mannon, MD, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology, department of internal medicine; and
  • Roslyn Mannon, MD, vice chair of faculty development in the division of nephrology in the department of internal medicine.

The three brought their VA Merit grants with them from their previous institutions. The increase also included several newly funded or refunded faculty.

Different than other funding mechanisms, VA proposals are funded by appropriations from Congress through the VA, so are called awards rather than grants, Dr. Hamel said. Both physician and PhD researchers must be employed and qualified by the VA to apply for VA grants, but can and often have funding from other sources such as the NIH.

VA applications are reviewed nationally using a peer-review process similar to NIH, and many peer reviewers serve on both VA and NIH study section panels.

Of those submitting proposals, the VA generally funds about 20%, while NIH funds 13-15% of those submitted, although the funding line varies considerably among different institutes and specific funding programs.

The VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System is affiliated with both UNMC and Creighton University and faculty from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska-Lincoln also actively collaborate on protocols.

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