Trends in NIH Funding of Dermatology Research, 2015-2019

Female doctor with stethoscope
Female doctor with stethoscope
Distribution patterns in research funding reflect a wide gender gap and suggest the need for continued support of women in research.

Trends in dermatology research funding from 2015 to 2019 were described in study data published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. During the study period, the National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded more than $550 million to dermatology-related projects. The majority of funding was awarded to men, suggesting that the gender gap within scientific research also pervades dermatology.

Investigators abstracted data from the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools for the years 2015 to 2019. Dermatology projects funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases were included in analyses. Projects were considered dermatology-focused if the funds were awarded to a dermatology department, if dermatology keywords were used in the grant application, or if projects included a disease with cutaneous manifestations. Funding amounts and the characteristics of funding recipients were assessed. All funding was adjusted to 2015 equivalent dollars using the Consumer Price Index.

During the 5-year study period, NIH awarded $554.2 million (m) in funding to 1764 dermatology-related projects conducted at 171 institutions. An overall adjusted increase of 14.7% was observed from 2015 ($104.4m) to 2019 ($119.9m). The majority of funding (60.9%) was awarded to men, who received $121.3m more in funding than women. The gender funding gap was greatest in 2015 ($37.8m) and smallest in 2017 ($18.4m). The mean annual percentage of projects awarded to women was 41.0%. The greatest proportion of funding was awarded to principal investigators (PIs) with a PhD ($263.0m), followed by PIs with an MD ($155.2m) and PIs with MD/PhDs ($133.5m). The average annual funding for PIs with a PhD was $52.6m, compared with $31.0m and $26.7m for MDs and MD/PhDs, respectively. By state, the greatest cumulative amount was awarded to California ($83.0m), followed by New York ($74.4m), Pennsylvania ($69.5m), Massachusetts ($57.1m), and Illinois ($32.2m). Collectively, these 5 states received an average of 57.1% of all funding in a given year. The top-funded institutions were Harvard University ($39.5m), Northwestern University ($27.4m), University of Pennsylvania ($27.1 m), University of Pittsburgh ($22.9m), and Yale University ($22.7m). The top 10 funded institutions received an average of 40.3% of annual funding in a given year. R01 grants comprised the greatest percentage of funding during the study period (60.2%), and the majority of R01s were awarded to men (65.1%).

These analyses showed that dermatology funding awards tended to be concentrated at select institutions and states. A significant gender gap also persisted in funding awards, with women leading fewer projects and receiving less money. Data were not available on the demographics of funding applicants, limiting the ability to assess differences in applicants and recipients. Further study is necessary to elucidate trends in dermatology funding. “Diversifying the distribution of grant awards and funding across a greater number of institutions is crucial to improving the breadth of topics and expertise,” investigators wrote. Mentorship programs and encouragement of research by the NIH may be crucial methods to increasing within-field diversity. 


Price KN, Collier EK, Atluri S, Hsiao JL, Shi VY. National Institute of Health dermatology funding trends 2015-2019 [published online May 25, 2020]. J Invest Dermatol. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2020.05.089