NIH Funding Stagnates for Certain Populations

September 12, 2019

Study finds disparity in clinical research funding for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) clinical research funding for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA/NHPI) remains stagnant compared to the its overall budget, according to a recent study, published in the JAMA Network.

Oregon State University PhD candidate Lan Doan and her team conducted the study to examine the level of investment by the NIH to fund clinical research focused on AA/NHPI populations. They reviewed the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools Expenditures and Results (RePORTER) system, an online database of federally funded projects dating from 1985 to present. NIH RePORTER includes information about the project that was funded including a summary or abstract of what was proposed, how much money the project was awarded, how many years the project was funded for, and who was funded.

Researchers queried the NIH RePORTER system for extramural AA/NHPI-focused clinical research projects conducted in the United States from January 1, 1992, to December 31, 2018. They found that over the past 26 years the NIH has allocated 0.17% of its budget toward 529 studies that included AA/NHPI participants. 

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“Understanding whether investments are inequitable is important because diversity in health research helps us better understand the health needs of our population and allows for public health practitioners, physicians to better tailor intervention and treatment options to the specific needs of these populations,” she says.

Doan says health studies often lump together Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians, making data on these groups insufficient and too generalized. AA/NHPI populations represent more than 50 countries or cultures of origin and 100 different languages and have unique health needs and cultural preferences and are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the United States, she adds.

“If diseases that disproportionately affect Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are underfunded, then these gaps in knowledge and therefore research toward prevention and treatment options are worsened for these populations,” Doan says.

Her findings called for greater direction of federal funds to address disparities. Although NIH funding has increased over the past two decades from 0.12% before 2000 to 0.18% after 2000, Doan called for greater direction of federal funds.

A response from the National Institutes of Health is pending.