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Source: Wiki Commons, NIH, and Courtesy of OREF

OREF Funding Increases NIH Funding Odds!

Jessica Mehta • Fri, September 8th, 2017

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One good thing really does lead to another. According to a study by the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF), published August 17, 2017 in the Journal of Bones and Joint Surgery (JBJS), if a project receives an OREF grant, it has better odds of receiving future National Institute of Health (NIH) funding. “The Relationship Between OREF Grants and Future NIH Funding Success” is authored by Nicholas M. Bernthal, M.D., Vishal Hedge, M.D., Y. Howard, M.D., Stephen Zoller, M.D., as well as Daniel Johansen and Christopher Hamad. All authors are with the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of California Los Angeles’ David Geffen School of Medicine.

According to Dr. Bernthal, M.D., et al., the team analyzed grants that received OREF funding from 1994 – 2014. Spanning 20 years of funding, these grants included the OREF Career Development Grant (previously the Career Development Award) and the New Investigator Grant (previously the Young Investigator Grant). On average, recipients who received OREF funding went on to receive NIH funding at a 22.3% rate. The average national rate of non-OREF recipients is 18%. Most impressive are the Career Development Grant recipients. They achieve a 46.3% NIH funding rate, which is well above the national average.

According to the authors, “Grants awarded by the OREF are not only important for supporting orthopaedic surgeons during the years they are funded, but also achieve their purpose of identifying and supporting young researchers.” Dr. David G. Lewallen, M.D., OREF president, said, “OREF’s grant review program is modeled on the NIH program, which gives us, as well as our individual and corporate donors, great confidence that the caliber of research and investigator being supported is top-notch.” He commends Dr. Bernthal’s work, and says the findings validate and illustrate the value of research OREF supports.

OREF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Its mission is to improve lives via orthopedic research, leading such research, and eliminating pain while restoring mobility. According to OREF, “extramural research funding has become increasingly difficult to acquire,” which is why one priority of the organization is to support research and create data necessary to secure major funding “from agencies such as the NIH.”

Number Crunching

In total, 126 OREF grants were awarded to 121 people (some were in group projects) since 1994. In the past 20 years, 27 OREF grant winners went on to receive NIH funding (22% of OREF awardees). On average, they were awarded an NIH grant 6.3 years after receiving an OREF grant.

Basic science projects received the most OREF and NIH grants at 58%, and were also over four times as likely to receive NIH funding compared to their non-basic science project counterparts. Additionally, faculty on the projects who received NIH funding had bylines on more publications and higher scholarly productivity. According to the researchers, “Faculty-level OREF grants appear to achieve their purpose of identifying and supporting researchers who aim to secure subsequent federal funding.”

While any type of OREF grant increased the odds of a project receiving NIH funding, there are also variances of success based on “study type.” For example, a “basic-cell” OREF-funded project achieves NIH funding at 35%, a “basic-biomechanical” OREF-funded project receives NIH funding at 33%, a “clinical” OREF-funded project achieves NIH funding at 4%, and an “epidemiology” OREF-funded project achieves NIH funding at 38%.

There are also differences based on subspecialties. Sports medicine claims the title of subspecialty most likely to receive both OREF and NIH funding with 6 of the 18 OREF projects receiving NIH funding. However, pediatrics has a higher success per capita. Of the 10 projects receiving OREF funding in the past 20 years, an incredible 5 also received NIH funding. Five of the 25 OREF-funded arthroplasty projects received NIH funding, 5 of the 18 OREF-funded oncology project received NIH funding, 2 of the 17 OREF-funded trauma projects received NIH funding, 2 of the 8 OREF-funded shoulder/elbow projects received NIH funding, and 2 of the 6 OREF-funded foot/ankle projects received NIH funding.

The researchers also considered the h-index. It showed that OREF-funded projects are more likely to receive NIH funding. The h-index is a popular metric used by research authors to analyze the citation and productivity of publications analyzed. It utilizes papers that are well-cited and considers amount of citations in other publications. The higher the score, the better. The average h-index score of OREF recipients who receive NIH funding is 15.29, while the h-index score of projects who did not receive NIH funding is 9.3.

However, patience and perseverance also seem to be a key to NIH funding. The research points out that the average time from first publication to receiving OREF funding for projects that go on to receive NIH funding is 12.16 years. The average time from first publication to receiving OREF funding for projects that don’t receive NIH funding is “just” 8.26 years.

In Conclusion…

The study was meant to gauge how successful faculty-led projects are in achieving both OREF and NIH funding. However, the researchers point out that securing NIH funding after OREF funding is only part of OREF funding goals. “It can also be used as an important benchmark to assess the development of orthopedic clinician-scientists,” say the researchers.

OREF accepts peer-reviewed, independent musculoskeletal research highlighting clinically relevant advancements according to the funding site. The organization is looking for “advancements that orthopedic surgeons can apply in daily practice to improve outcomes and help patients enjoy more of life.” Awardees are selected through a peer-reviewed, independent process similar to what the NIH uses. The grants team can be contacted at, at 847-439-5109, or on the official OREF funding site at

General and research-specific grants are available. General grants include the:

  • Career Development Grant ($225,000) for investigators of scientific research
  • New Investigator Grant ($50,000) to “advance the scientific training of the next orthopedic surgeons by providing seed and start-up funding
  • Prospective Clinical Research Grant ($150,000) to promote clinical research and fund prospective studies in orthopedic surgery
  • OREF Mentored Clinician-Scientist Grant ($20,000) to help develop new clinician scientists for a career in academic surgery and supplement orthopedic researcher salaries who have secured NIH funding
  • ORS/OREF Post-Doctoral Fellowship Grant ($50,000) for a postdoctoral candidate committed to an orthopedic-related project
  • Resident Clinician Scientist Training Grant ($20,000) to help prepare a resident for a research-centered career
  • Resident Research Project Grant ($5,000) to fund a resident interested in research (expenses only)

There are also eight research grants, including the $800,000 OREF Clinical Research Grant in Cellular Therapy in honor of Dr. James Urbaniak, M.D. in Collaboration with the National Stem Cell Foundation. The three-year grant is earmarked for adult stem cell therapy research. There’s a special emphasis on stem cell therapy for musculoskeletal conditions and tissue-specific adult stem cell therapy.

The full article on OREF and NIH funding is available to download at the JBJS website.

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