Over a 20 year period, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation has invested ~$10 million into academic research grants that support scientific inquiries related to mitochondrial disease. We are very proud of that track record, and the UMDF Grant Program remains the cornerstone of the Foundation’s commitment to advancing research toward the development of treatments and cures for mitochondrial disease.
As we push into our third decade of existence, much has changed in terms of scientific knowledge in this space as well as the role that foundations such as UMDF play in the therapeutic development process. Our feeling is that a new landscape calls for a fresh approach toward scientific investment.
We want to be thoughtful in developing new funding mechanisms and, unfortunately, that is not possible if we are concurrently running an open grant cycle. We have therefore decided to delay the start of the 2017 UMDF Grant Program until further notice. UMDF remains fully committed to making scientific investments in 2017.
We will communicate updates when appropriate. Thank you in advance for your patience.
Grant Program Overview
Q: What are the basics of the grant cycle? A: Typically a new grant cycle in the fall of each year. Applicants are invited to send a Letter of Intent (LOI) which is a brief form outlining the research project. Members of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB) review and score the LOIs and top-scoring applications are invited to send a full proposal. A proposal is a longer, more in-depth project description which includes methods, justification, goals, and detailed budget. Selected reviewers, including SMAB members and non-members, PhDs and MDs, review assigned proposals based on their own areas of expertise in relation to the proposals. They provide not only scores, but full page critiques. A face-to-face meeting of the Grant Review Committee is held in late spring to further discuss each proposal, after which they are given a final score based on the discussion. Grant recipients are selected at this grant review meeting. A letter is then sent to each proposal applicant apprising him/her of the decision concerning his/her proposal, and includes the reviewers’ critiques, minus the reviewers’ names. Winners are awarded at the annual symposium in June.
Q: What do the reviewers look for in LOIs and proposals?
A: In LOIs, the reviewers provide scores for scientific merit and viability, relevance to mitochondrial disease and the mission of the UMDF, applicant’s qualifications and current or future impact in the mitochondrial field, and his/her mentor’s qualifications (if the applicant is a post-doctoral fellow).
In proposals, reviewers look for significance/impact on mitochondrial disorders, the applicant’s approach to accomplishing project goals, and the project’s feasibility.
Q: Why is it that most of the UMDF-funded projects do not directly involve potential treatments and cures for mitochondrial disease?
A: They do! There are three main categories of research as it relates to drug development: basic, translational and clinical. All three of these categories are important for the effective development of treatments and cures. Researchers realize that, in order to “fix” a problem in the human body, they must first understand the basics: the structure and function of that system, organ, cell or organelle. Secondly, in translational research, they attempt to determine what happens when some part of that structure or function is manipulated. These two areas form the building blocks for clinical research. While there is still much to be learned about the basic structure and function of mitochondria, science is advancing quickly and translational tools such as cell and animal models are becoming more common. Clinical research focuses more on standardized testing and diagnosis, treatments, and eventually a cure, and here too UMDF encourages applicants to submit proposals of potential impact. An additional focus of the UMDF is to support and encourage new researchers in the field of mitochondrial disorders. Once these researchers become established, it is then more likely they will be competitive for much larger grants through bigger organizations and institutions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Q: Why doesn’t the UMDF automatically fund the research of mitochondrial researchers and specialists well known to the UMDF?
A: The UMDF seeks to fund the top research project applications in a given year, no matter who the applicant may be or where they may be located. The grant review committee makes every effort to judge each application fairly and without bias. It is quite possible that the top applications in a given year will be from researchers other than those with whom the UMDF has a relationship, and those projects are the ones that will be selected for funding. This in no way diminishes our appreciation, enthusiasm, and respect for other dedicated mitochondrial disease researchers whose projects were not selected for funding- the process is highly competitive, with roughly 10-15% of full proposals chosen for award.
Q: Why doesn’t the UMDF continue to fund an ongoing project?
A: The UMDF has a policy not to continue funding a project beyond the original one or two year limits. The rationale is that the UMDF funds small projects with the hope that the researcher will then be able to capitalize on the project’s results by acquiring a larger grant from a bigger institution such as the NIH to further investigate that area of research. This leaves more funds available to encourage young/new mitochondrial researchers entering the field. However, even experienced researchers previously funded by the UMDF are welcome to submit an application for a brand new project.
Q: Where can I find a list of the UMDF’s current Grant Review Committee?