Leukemia Research Foundation Launches Charity Initiative
Agency could lose $25,000 grant if new money isn't raised.
When organizers with the Leukemia Research Foundation (LRF) successfully completed a monthslong grant-seeking process in August, they had only done about half of its fundraising work.
The Wilmette-based public charity received a challenge grant of $25,000 in general support of its efforts to fight leukemia, lymphoma, and myelodysplastic syndromes. The LRF has until the end of July 2011 to raise another $25,000, or it will lose the grant.
"The deal is, we have to raise $25,000 in new money," said Carl Alston, LRF's director of communications. "And for every dollar in new money that we raise, the [funder] will match that contribution. So the total benefit to the Leukemia Research Foundation will be $50,000."
Alston could not reveal the name of the funding organization because it has requested to stay anonymous.
To meet the challenge, the LRF will team with its 23 chapters to organize charity events, send out direct mail and phone campaigns, and ask its members and friends to specifically support the grant.
"Not only do we have to raise $25,000 in new money – new meaning people who haven't donated to us before – but we also need to raise the money among our current supporters," Alston said. "And new money among current supporters means that we have to get them to give us more money than they gave us the previous year."
The LRF would use the money to boost its global research program, aid its patient financial assistance program for Illinois residents and help its regional educational and emotional support initiatives.
Although the grant can be used for general purposes, the foundation traditionally uses the bulk of its money to fund scientific research.
The LRF is among a growing number of U.S. charities that fund new investigators, or scientists within five to seven years of completing their postgraduate training.
Unlike senior and independently funded investigators who tend to receive multimillion dollar, multiyear grants from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), junior investigators rely on organizations like the LRF to get their foot into the door.
Where does the money go?
Justin Kline, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center and hematologist/oncologist specializing in leukemia and lymphoma, is one of eight junior investigators who were awarded a research grant from the LRF during the 2010-2011 funding cycle.
The award, under LRF's Hollis Brownstein Research Grants Program, gives $100,000 to each researcher for a period of one year.
Kline is studying the mechanisms through which cancer cells suppress the host's immune system. He develops models in mice to improve the immune-mediated rejection of cancer that can then be translated into clinical trials for patients with advanced malignancies. The LRF grant allowed him to hire a postdoctoral fellow to do research for him full-time.
"These types of grants are really vital to help junior investigators start up laboratories, buy equipment and hire staff," Kline said. "It's very difficult these days for junior investigators, in particular, to get what we call independent funding through NIH grants, especially now because of the economy."
Five years ago, the LRF's Medical Advisory Board decided to suspend the foundations support of postdoctoral fellowships and instead fund only new investigators like Kline.
This year LRF funded eight projects, in comparison with 10 last year and nine the year before The number of grantees depends on available funds.
"We made this decision because new investigators is a category of research scientists that's sort of stuck in the middle – between postdoctoral fellows, who have schools to support them and tenured scientists who have their own labs – a niche that nobody has filled in," Alston said. "But they have groundbreaking ideas, and we fund them so that they can get the opportunity to get to the endpoint of their projects."
Meanwhile, in 2009, the NIH announced a new policy to encourage early-stage investigators who apply for NIH grants. According to the policy, applications from junior investigators will be given special consideration during peer review and at the time of funding. Reviewers will focus more on the proposed approach than on the track record will expect less preliminary data than would be provided by an established investigator.
"A lot of foundations are now, or at least it seems to me, sort of favoring funding junior people," Kline said. ''Because if they don't fund young people, then 10 years from now those people will never have gotten a chance, and scientific research would not have moved forward because young people don't mature into independent scientists."