UNC Health Talk

UNC’s Wolfgang Bergmeier, PhD, earns Bridge Grant

Earlier this year, Wolfgang Bergmeier, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine, discovered that the protein Rasa3 is critical during the process by which the anti-clotting drug Plavix dissolves arterial clogs that trigger heart attacks. This week, Bergmeier received funding to continue researching the complex mechanisms involved in heart-related conditions. He was one of 13 recipients of an American Society of Hematology Bridge Grant, a one-year, $150,000 award designed to bridge the gap between an investigator’s National Institute of Health (NIH) grants.

The NIH is the world’s top provider of medical research grants, but a decade of flat funding followed by across-the-board spending cuts has drastically reduced the agency’s budget. As a result, the NIH is no longer able to fund as many high-scoring proposals as it did in the past. This has led to vigorous competition for NIH R01 awards and prevents otherwise worthy projects from receiving vital financial support. In some cases, this means that important veins of research must be halted.

In an effort to preserve hematology research projects amid this uncertain funding environment, in 2012 the American Society of Hematology (ASH) committed $9 million to create the ASH Bridge Grant program, which is designed to allow researchers to continue their critical work while obtaining additional data to strengthen their grant applications. Since the beginning of the program, ASH has funded 74 researchers.

“When NIH does not have the adequate funds to support medical research, science loses,” said ASH President David A. Williams, MD, of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and Harvard Medical School. “When scientists aren’t funded, they spend more time applying for alternative grant funding than on scientific research and discovery, and some must reduce the size or close their laboratories completely. This environment endangers not only existing programs, but also the next generation of scientists who are growing disheartened with the field and abandoning research careers for other paths.”

Research projects supported by ASH’s latest bridge grants encompass a wide range of basic, clinical, and translational hematology research. Funded projects include exploring the role of a protein in malaria formation, the molecular genetics of a congenital bone marrow disease, and a treatment for infant leukemia.

Bergmeier said he will use the grant to investigate the mechanisms that control the adhesiveness of circulating blood platelets. A better understanding of these processes is relevant for our understanding of platelet activity associated with certain diseases and the antithrombotic activity of drugs that affect platelet signaling.

“This ASH Bridge Grant will help our lab tremendously, as it will bridge a gap in our NIH funding and allow us to continue this clinically very relevant line of research” Bergmeier said. “Our long-term goal is to improve the treatment for patients with cardiovascular disease. The development of improved therapies, however, depends on continuous support for basic science projects, mostly provided by the NIH. Unfortunately, these grants are harder and harder to obtain.”

Williams said, “The revolution we are experiencing in new treatments for many blood diseases and blood cancers has been made possible by the funding of research over the past several decades. While ASH is proud to help sustain important hematology research that ultimately benefits patients during this significant downturn in federal support, there is no substitute for an NIH grant.

“We urge lawmakers to work together and arrive at a bipartisan solution that replaces sequestration with a balanced approach to deficit reduction and allows necessary funding increases for NIH. Such funding is critical for continuing America’s pre-eminence in biomedical research, stimulating employment in high-tech jobs and – most importantly – improving and extending the lives of our patients.”

Read more about Bergmeier’s work.

Visit the ASA website to view the complete list of ASH Bridge Grant recipients.

To make a donation, or take action in support of federal funding for biomedical research, visit here.

The American Society of Hematology (www.hematology.org) is the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders. Its mission is to further the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting blood, bone marrow, and the immunologic, hemostatic, and vascular systems by promoting research, clinical care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. The official journal of ASH is Blood, the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field.