Gender Gap in NIH-Awarded Research Grants Persists in the Field of Non-Malignant Hematology

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The study results shine a light on the potential need for further policy changes that promote gender equity and bridge the gap in R01 funding awarded to female applicants.

Historically, there has been an underrepresentation of females throughout the field of hematology, explained Sara Khan, DO, a resident physician at HCA Healthcare and the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, during a presentation at the 65th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting and Exposition. Khan explained further that this underrepresentation has impacted the likelihood of females receiving a Research Project Grant (R01) awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The R01 grant is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH, as well as among the most prestigious and competitive types of medical research funding made available by NIH.1

In a 10 year retrospective analysis of the R01 grants awarded by NIH from the fiscal years of 2012 to 2022, principal study investigator (PI) Khan and her colleagues looked at gender disparities within research in classical (non-malignant) hematology. The temporal analysis showed that two-thirds of R01 grants were awarded to research projects led by male investigators, while a third were granted to female-led research projects.1

“In total, there are about 250,031 R01 grants from the years 2012 to 2022. From those 10 years, only 82,152 R01 grants were awarded to female [applicants], which makes it only 32.9%. For males, it was 167,879 R01 grants, making that 67.1% [of] RO1 grants awarded to males,” Khan said during the presentation. “Although there's [been] an increase in the amount of grants for females making a significant difference [during this period], there still remains a gap.”1

To conduct the analysis, Khan and her research team leveraged data on R01 grants using the NIH RePORTER tool (Tidyverse), which is a database that includes all active NIH grants. The analysis included the incorporation of key grant parameters such as grant ID, agency code, activity code, abstract text, project title, fiscal year, activity status, award amount, organization, and PI’s name. Further, the investigators used the gender package in R to distinguish the PI’s gender identity by processing first names, which provided a gender-wise distribution of recipients that had an 85% accuracy rate, according to Khan.1,2

For statistical analyses, proportions of female-led research with accepted R01 grants were compared between 2012 and 2022, with a proportion analysis conducted among each NIH agency. The investigators used linear regression and associated statistical tests to identify any significant changes in R01 grants received by a specific gender during this period.1,2

For statistical analyses, proportions of female-led research with accepted R01 grants were compared between 2012 and 2022, with a proportion analysis conducted among each NIH agency. Image Credit: © Nuttapong punna - stock.adobe.com

For statistical analyses, proportions of female-led research with accepted R01 grants were compared between 2012 and 2022, with a proportion analysis conducted among each NIH agency. Image Credit: © Nuttapong punna - stock.adobe.com

Specifically, NIH agencies such as the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) awarded less than 25% of total R01 grants to female-led research projects. By 2022, NBIB continued to have the most extensive gender gap in awarded research, with only 23% of grants going to female-led research.1,2

"NIGMS and NINDS have made steps toward promoting diversity and inclusivity in research funding," Khan said. "While some NIH agencies are making progress toward gender parity, the continuing large disparity in R01 awards by the NIBIB calls for further attention and action."3

In contrast, the National Institute of Minority Health and Disparities (NIMHD) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) awarded more grants to female applicants in 2012, with approximately 52% of grants awarded by NIMHD given to female-led research projects and 74% of grants from NINR awarded to female-led projects. However, these 2 agencies were the only ones out of 27 NIH agencies to award more grants to female applicants in 2012. In 2022, the NINR and NIHMD continued to show more grants awarded to females vs males.1-3

“An interesting finding that we also saw is there were 2 institutes, [the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)], that awarded less than 50% [of R01 grants] to females in 2012, but by 2022, more than 50% of grants were awarded to females,” Khan said.1

At the 2 NIH institutes that award the largest number of R01 grants in non-malignant hematology—the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)—27% of R01 grants were awarded to female researchers. In 2022, the proportion of R01 grants awarded to female-led research projects increased to 33% at NHLBI and 36% at NIDDK.1,2

Khan noted that a limitation of this study is that the investigators were able to analyze data for R01 grant recipients but not for all applicants, the details of which would help to shine light on the gender representation of NIH R01 applicants in relation to the gender representation of awardees. However, the data that are available from NIH on applicants cites the success rate of applicants for R01-equivalent awards as being 20.1% in 2021 and 21.6% in 2022.2,3

"We need more research aimed at understanding the reasons for persistent gender disparities in R01 grant funding in non-malignant hematology and other fields," Khan said. "This should help to identify the policy changes that may be needed to promote gender equity and bridge the gap that we're currently seeing."3

REFERENCES

  1. Khan S. Focusing on Health Equity in Hematology. Presented at: 65th ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Diego, California; December 6, 2023.
  2. Khan S, Eshaghi F, Sohail A, et al. 5113 A 10 Year Analysis of Gender Distribution in National Institutes of Health Funding for Non-Malignant Hematology. American Society of Hematology. 2023. Accessed December 9, 2023. https://ash.confex.com/ash/2023/webprogram/Paper180317.html
  3. Studies Uncover Drivers of Health Disparities and Opportunities to Enhance Equity. News Release. San Diego: American Society of Hematology; December 9, 2023. Accessed December 10, 2023. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/studies-uncover-drivers-of-health-disparities-and-opportunities-to-enhance-equity-302010728.html
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