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Vol. LIX, No. 18
September 7, 2007

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EUREKA Grant Program Kicks Off

On the front page...

Got a trail-blazing idea? A controversial hypothesis? NIH wants you! In concert with four other ICs, NIGMS has launched EUREKA, a new funding initiative to help researchers with original ideas. Program director Dr. Laurie Tompkins, who helped create EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration), says it will carve out space for the "paradigm-shifters" that might otherwise get triaged.

Such a novel program requires a new set of instructions: "We make it explicit to ask candidates not how likely it is to succeed," Tompkins says, "but is there any likelihood at all to succeed. Don't worry if it's risky."


  Dr. Laurie Tompkins, a scientist and an artist (that's her fused glass at left), helped design EUREKA.  
  Dr. Laurie Tompkins, a scientist and an artist (that's her fused glass at left), helped design EUREKA.  
NIGMS will also have its own EUREKA-dedicated review staff, says Tompkins, so they can focus "on these applications alone and compare them with each other, not other kinds," such as more conventional funding mechanisms like the R01. "That's the only way to have a fair review."

Tompkins's own scientific specialty is neurogenetics, and at Temple University she ran a research lab for 18 years before coming to NIH as a reviewer. She's received grants, reviewed grants and now she's designing them. Along with colleague Dr. Ravi Basavappa, she began brainstorming EUREKA back in 2005, when NIGMS's IC-specific R21 came up for renewal.

"Just revising it wasn't going to solve it," she said. "We could make it better, but we couldn't make it good. I wasn't trying to be dramatic, but I said, we have to have something new. So we let the R21 expire; it died a natural death."

NIGMS contributions to each EUREKA award would fund direct costs of up to $800,000 over 4 years, bringing the institute's portion to $5 million. In addition, NINDS, NIMH, NIDA and NIAID will collectively contribute $3.4 million, bringing the program total to $8.4 million. NIGMS hopes to award 13-17 EUREKAs in FY 2008.

Demonstrators “Storm the NIH” in 1990.
EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) takes its name from an exclamation by Archimedes, ancient mathematician, physicist and engineer.

"The application questions ask: how important is the problem they're trying to solve, will it have a higher-than-average significance and what portion of the scientific community will be affected," Tompkins explains. "Of course, if it could have clinical significance, we want to know that, too."

Applicants should also focus on these elements: the logic of the experimental plan, their own history-whether they've ever solved tough problems using innovative methods, and preliminary data (if any). But keep this in mind: EUREKA is not all about preliminary research.

"Any combination of these, or even one of them, can convince us that this [application] is not totally impossible," says Tompkins. "Now, even if they violate the six laws of physics, we can advise the applicant to revise, or to call someone at the NSF."

How does EUREKA differ from the Pioneer Award? "The Pioneer is trans-NIH; it's more money and more time. The emphasis there is on the person, not the project," Tompkins explains. "The EUREKA is for ICs who wish to participate. This is about the size of a modest R01." A Pioneer awardee could also apply to EUREKA if he or she had a single idea, especially if it involves "a central hypothesis about a given field."

EUREKA takes its name from Archimedes, ancient Greek mathematician, physicist and engineer. The story is that one day, when he stepped into his bath, Archimedes observed how the water rose as his body displaced it. In a flash, he realized that by submerging an object in water, he could calculate its volume and density. He was so elated by his discovery that supposedly he leaped out of the tub and dashed outside without clothes on. "Eureka!" he cried. "I have found it!"

Archimedes may have seemed hare-brained, but he made history. For her part, Tompkins is all for the wild creativity of science.

"I know the impact of this personally," she says, recalling the national meeting where a scientific discovery was announced. "It was standing- room-only," she says, and for good reason: the scientist reported how one gene could be replaced by another form of the gene-even a gene from another species.

"It opened up a lot of doors in molecular biology and gene therapy," Tompkins recalls. "Before, everybody had thought, well, you can do this with fungi, but he overcame technical obstacles and showed what we can do with higher organisms with many cells." The discovery revolutionized the field of genetics.

The application deadline for the EUREKA program is Oct. 24. To view the full funding opportunity announcement, see NIH Record Icon

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