The Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC) aims to advance the most innovative ideas relevant to environmental health and to fulfill the overall strategic vision and goals of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Center.
The Specific Aims of the Pilot Projects Program are:
- To provide short-term support for innovative projects aimed at exploring new areas of environmental health research and acquiring preliminary data necessary to pursue long-term extramural funding.
- To support the Career Development of new investigators and highly successful senior investigators who wish to redirect their research to include environmental health.
To assist center members as they prepare to submit grant applications specifically to NIEHS, we are moving to a more flexible and targeted approach to using the funds that are budgeted for pilot projects. Rather than complete projects from start to end with full budgets, a set submission date, and open competition for a limited number of grants, the center will now be taking evaluation requests for specific assistance on a rolling basis. There are no limits to the assistance that can be requested, either in terms of the type of assistance, time-frame for the assistance, or the dollar value.
Outcomes to date
Since 2013, the SWEHSC has received 27 applications for Pilot Project funding from ten different departments and four different colleges at the University. Of these applications, eight came from junior faculty who were not members of the SWEHSC at the time of their Pilot Project applications.
Our emphasis has been on funding Pilot Projects that will assist investigators with the submission of NIEHS grant applications. Since 2013, the Pilot Projects Program has distributed $528,138 ($423,074 from the SWEHSC Pilot Projects budget; $71,781 from the Career Development Core, $28,283 from our partnership with BIO5, and $5,000 from other sources). The total Direct Cost budgets from the five funded was $3,349,338, resulting in a 6-fold return on investment to date. There are seventeen additional NIEHS designated grant applications that are still under review with pending budgets totaling $5,672,707.
Pilot Project Future Plans
The Pilot Projects are a valuable SWEHSC asset and provide the “flexibility” for the SWEHSC to undertake new endeavors to make our Center responsive to its strategic plan and to new NIEHS initiatives. Overall, the goals for the Pilot Projects Program to support the most innovative science and to develop and attract new investigators to environmental health research remain largely unaltered. To strengthen our NIEHS funded portfolio, we will continue to emphasize the use of Pilot Projects to support new and competing NIEHS grant applications. However, despite the emphasis on NIEHS funded grants, the Pilot Projects will continue to support new priorities set for SWEHSC by: (i) emphasizing specific scientific areas of interest; (ii) targeting young investigators both at UA and other Arizona institutions; (iii) encouraging interaction between the PIs; (iv) fostering additional high risk/high yield projects and the use of facility cores as recruiting tools; (v) partnering with the Community Engagement Core (CEC) to support Pilot Projects between community action group leaders and SWEHSC investigators on local environmental health studies; and (vi) partnering with Career Development to support the Pilot Projects of clinician scientists in environmental health research. The funding philosophy will remain flexible, balancing scientific merit and the programmatic needs of the SWEHSC. A priority will remain supporting the growth of the RFGs through individual and collaborative Pilot Projects. One of the goals of the Pilot Project Program during the next funding period will be to target translational proposals that will add to our research focus in the Integrative Health Sciences, which represents a major thrust for SWEHSC research in the next funding period.