Sonya Dumanis lores
Sonya Dumanis
Senior Associate, Center for Strategic Philanthropy
Bioscience and Medical Research and Philanthropy and Science
Dr. Sonya Dumanis is a senior associate at the Milken Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. Focused primarily on medical research philanthropy, Dumanis provides individual philanthropists and foundations with comprehensive and objective information related to the state of research for various diseases and key unmet needs impeding scientific progress.
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Supporting Next-Generation Scientists: Milken Family Foundation Epilepsy Grants as a Case Study

By: Sonya Dumanis
September 16, 2016

Recently, the Center for Strategic Philanthropy assessed the human capital investment that the Milken Family Foundation (MFF) put into the epilepsy field from 1989 to 2007. During those 18 years, 192 MFF awards were distributed to academic researchers working to address key biomedical challenges in epilepsy. A substantial portion of these awards went to postdoctoral fellows, young investigators just starting their own labs or distinguished senior investigators who already made significant contributions to the field.

Therefore, in our analysis we asked the key question – where are they all now? Are they still working in epilepsy? Did they remain the United States? Were they able to receive follow-on funding from the National Institutes of Health in the form of RO1 awards to continue to support their work?

Where are they now?

  • Postdoctoral Fellows- MFF supported 94 epilepsy postdoctoral fellows. As of June 2016, 54 percent of the fellows are still working in the epilepsy space, and 80 percent of awardees are still actively involved in research. RO1s are grants that are usually looked at as a measure of success, as they are often a major consideration by American academic administrations for tenure positions. Out of all awardees who remained in the US for academic research, 41 percent of awardees were successful in obtaining an RO1 award. This number is higher than the success rate for applicants from 1989 to present, which peaked around 32 percent.
  • Young Investigators- MFF supported 21 young investigators starting up academic research programs in epilepsy. As of June 2016, 93 percent are still working in the epilepsy space, and 100 percent of awardees are actively involved in research. The RO1 success rate for this group was 53 percent.
  • Distinguished Investigators- MFF supported 14 distinguished senior investigators in the epilepsy field. Following the award, most of these distinguished investigators did not obtain future funding from other sources as they have either passed away (nine are deceased) or retired. Out of the distinguished investigator US awardees, only one has an active government grant.

In a recent Science Translation Medicine editorial, Scott Friedman pointed out that around 80 percent of science PhDs are not pursing the traditional academic career. The PhD pipeline, according to many economists, is broken. Job prospects are few and young investigators have the lowest means of support within the system. Using these MFF grants as a parable for the field, they highlight how supporting next-generation investigators is an investment worth making