In April 2020, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) published two notices (NOT-DK-20-023, NOT-DK-20-024) announcing that the Division of Kidney, Urologic, & Hematologic Diseases (KUH) will no longer participate in the traditional National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Research Service Award (NRSA) T32 Program and instead will participate in a new Institutional Training Program.
This abrupt announcement came as many programs were in the process of completing competitive renewals and will significantly impact the programs currently funded under the T32 mechanism.
Given the gravity and consequences of these unexpected changes, a large number of ASN’s more than 21,000 members contacted the society to articulate their concerns regarding NIDDK’s announcement. The ASN Policy and Advocacy Committee discussed these concerns, identified approaches to address them, and asked the ASN Council to submit these recommendations to NIDDK and KUH. ASN recommended that NIDDK consider the following:
■ Providing bridge funding to programs that were/are in the process of competitive renewals to the Parent T32. This funding is necessary in enabling the transition for many programs, especially those that have already identified fellows.
■ Articulating its rationale for limiting the number of eligible programs to fewer, larger Institutional Network Awards given the T32 program’s historical success and that they provide more research training opportunities for individuals than the announced Institutional Network Award.
■ Giving ASN an opportunity to provide further input to NIDDK as the institute drafts the Funding Opportunity Announcement to invite applications for Institutional Network Awards for Research Training. (ASN’s offer to serve as a resource to NIDDK on this issue was not accepted.)
More than a month after its initial announcement, NIDDK on May 28, 2020, published a Funding Opportunity Announcement for the “Institutional Network Awards for Research Training” (PA-20-220), the new program that will be in lieu of KUH’s participation in the traditional Parent T32.
The new program has fewer, but larger, Institutional Network Awards (U2C/TL1) and, in an attempt to foster a community of trainees, NIDDK has limited applicant organizations to submitting only one Institutional Network Award application that spans kidney, urology, and hematology training at the institution. KUH and NIDDK also encourage “a single, consolidated application from several institutions within the same metropolitan area that include multiple departments with a different research focus” supporting at least five trainees across kidney, urologic, and hematologic research areas through the award. The new program seems to favor larger institutions with existing training programs that have at least two foci that include kidney, urologic, or hematologic research.
ASN believes the new program’s focus on fewer but larger awards will lead to the exclusion of many worthy institutions from the research process, while also exacerbating the declining ranks of successful scientists in nephrology and the recruitment of more junior scientists.
With some current T32s in metropolitan areas ending at different times, ASN is concerned that these institutions will inadvertently receive an advantage in the application process for the new Institutional Network Award. Smaller programs that end sooner, in 2020 or 2021, will be at a significant disadvantage in the application process for the Institutional Network Award. There is no incentive for current T32 programs that end in 2022, 2023, or 2024 to consider joining with those that end in 2020 or 2021 to strengthen the application, so smaller programs that end sooner will face a considerable setback before the application process begins.
Finally, ASN members and the kidney community overall have been stretched thin while addressing the current COVID-19 public health emergency, particularly those in major metropolitan areas or areas highly impacted by COVID-19. The sudden timing of NIDDK’s announcement in April 2020, which was just weeks away from the T32 submission deadline for competitive renewals for which many programs were in the midst of applying, placed another burden on the kidney community. ASN believes that the application window for the new Institutional Network Award does not consider the community’s current circumstances.
NIDDK announced that it would hold a webinar in anticipation of many questions from the community about the Institutional Network Awards, but as of press time, the webinar had not occurred.