President's Perspective

President's Perspective

President’s Perspective: July 2015

This newsletter will come to members shortly before the ISN/APSN/ANS meeting in Cairns in late August. This meeting will feature two of the core plenary sessions for ANS meetings. The Eccles Lecture will be by Professor Robert Vink on “Increased Intracranial pressure after Acute CNS Injury: a Basic Scientist’s Perspective of a Clinical Problem” and the meeting will be rounded off with the Lawrie Austin Lecture to be delivered by Professor Ashley Bush on “Iron in Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease”. We encourage all members to attend these plenaries to support your Society. The Lawrie Austin Lecture is a particularly appropriate plenary for this meeting given Lawrie’s substantial contribution to building neurochemistry in Australia. ANS will also have a booth at the conference – please drop by to hear the latest on plans for ANS2015 in Hobart, as well as other activities of the ANS.
ANS would like to extend our congratulations to Professor Pankaj Sah for his recent appointment as Director of the Queensland Brain Institute. We would also like to extend our best wishes and thanks to Professor Perry Bartlett, who had the instrumental role in building the QBI into a powerhouse of neuroscience research in Australia. As QBI Director, Perry also provided strong support to ANS-related activities such as the Australian and New Zealand Brain Bee competition as well as the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience. We look forward to Perry’s continued contributions to neuroscience research in his post-Dirtectorial academic life.
We have been requesting further information on NHMRC funding for neuroscience research. Mrs Helen Douglas and Dr Jim Stankovich from the University of Tasmania have kindly applied some further analysis of the data, including the graphical interfaces shown below. Please keep in mind that this relates to research coded primarily to the Neuroscience ‘Field-of-Research’ (FOR), and there would be neuroscience-related research within some other FORs. The first figure (see below) shows success rates by FOR for 2010-2014. In the graph, the size of the circle represents the total number of applications received in each research category. In this period, the overall success rate for all FORs is approximately 25% whereas it is 23% for the neuroscience FOR. Broadly though, the Neuroscience FOR is somewhat in the ‘middle of the pack’ relative to the scale of applications, with notably lower funding success rates for Neuroscience in 2012 and 2014, as summarized in the table below.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 total
Neurosciences 26% 27% 23% 21% 17% 23%
All fields of research 27% 28% 27% 22% 23% 25%

The second graph shows Neuroscience FOR funding rates across the major NHMRC grant opportunities. In the graph, the size of the circle and number represents the total number of applications received by the NHMRC for each research category. There have been an increasing number of applications to the NHMRC for FOR Neuroscience over the five-year period, however the associated funding success rate has decreased over the same period of time. This is summarised in the table below.

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Total applications 504 510 536 566 573
Funding success 26.0% 26.5% 23.3% 21.2% 16.6%

It may be difficult to make a lot of sense for granting opportunities with low numbers of applications. However, for research opportunities such as Development Grants, the success rate has been very low over recent years. Research Fellowship success rates have also dropped sharply over this period.

We need to reflect on where Neuroscience has not done as well as other FORs in terms of success rates relative to application numbers and category type. There is probably little to be gained from arguing that neuroscience deserves a greater proportion of the funding pool, especially in the light of an NHMRC budget that is not likely to increase over the next few years. The broader proposition should be about the value of increased funding for neuroscience (and perhaps medical research in general) in light of the changing profile of illness and wellbeing in our community, and the impact of nervous system conditions from health and economic perspectives. In addition, there could be arguments developed for additional strategic funding from non-NHMRC sources, perhaps in the area of advanced neurotechnologies, education and translational research. This will require a more extensive coalition that goes beyond the membership. To this end, an initial expansion of our outreach activities will involve new social media sites for ANS (Facebook and LinkedIn) which will dovetail with our recently rejuvenated web presence. Further initiatives will be announced shortly, and we also look forward to the feedback of the membership on areas in which we can show advocacy on behalf of neuroscience in our region.

James Vickers
20 July 2015

Figure 1 Figure 2