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

Pharmacy Practice in Focus: OncologyJanuary 2024
Volume 6
Issue 1

Further policy changes to promote gender equity may be needed.

Historically, there has been an underrepresentation of women in the field of hematology, Sara Khan, DO, a resident physician at HCA Florida Bayonet Point Hospital in Tampa, explained during a presentation at the 65th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, California. Khan explained further that this underrepresentation has affected the likelihood of women receiving a Research Project Grant (R01) awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The R01 is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH and among the most prestigious and competitive types of medical research funding made available by the NIH.1

Lab tech testing blood sample -- Image credit: Elnur |

Image credit: Elnur |

In a 10-year retrospective analysis of the R01 grants awarded by the NIH from the fiscal years of 2012 to 2022, principal investigator (PI) Khan and her colleagues looked at gender disparities within research in classical (nonmalignant) hematology. The temporal analysis showed that two-thirds of R01 grants were awarded to research projects led by male investigators, whereas one-third was granted to research projects led by female investigators.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 male [applicants], it was 167,879 R01 grants, making that 67.1% [of] R01 grants awarded to male [applicants],” Khan said during the presentation. “Although there’s [been] an increase in the amount of grants for female [applicants] 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 identification number, 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 programming language to distinguish the PI’s gender identity by processing first names, which provided a gender distribution of recipients that had an 85% accuracy rate, according to Khan.1,2

For statistical analyses, proportions of research led by women 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

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 research projects led by women. By 2022, NIBIB continued to have the most extensive gender gap in awarded research, with only 23% of grants going to research led by women.1,2

“NIGMS and NINDS have made steps toward promoting diversity and inclusivity in research funding,” Khan said. “Although 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 on 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 and 74% of grants from NINR awarded to research projects led by women. However, these 2 of 27 NIH agencies were the only ones to award more grants to female applicants in 2012. In 2022, the NINR and NIHMD continued to show more grants awarded to women vs men.1-3

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

At the 2 NIH institutes that award the largest number of R01 grants in nonmalignant hematology, which are 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 research projects led by women 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 and 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 available from the NIH on applicants cite 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 nonmalignant 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


1. Khan S. Focusing on health equity in hematology. Presented at: 65th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition; December 9-12, 2023; San Diego, CA.

2. Khan S, Eshaghi F, Sohail A, et al. A 10 year analysis of gender distribution in National Institutes of Health funding for non-malignant hematology. Presented at: 65th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition; December 9-12, 2023; San Diego, CA. Accessed December 9, 2023.

3. Studies uncover drivers of health disparities and opportunities to enhance equity. News release. American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition. December 9, 2023. Accessed December 10, 2023.

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