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Funding opportunity for medical and surgical specialists to establish a track record in aging research

Sue Zieman
Medical Officer,
Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology (DGCG)

Are you an early career gastroenterologist, neurologist, or orthopedist, or some other type of medical or surgical specialist? Do you spend time caring for older patients? If so, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the gaps in our understanding and treatment of this complex group of patients.

The NIA has funding available for junior faculty clinician-researchers in medical and surgical specialties. These grants can help you establish a track record in aging research. Please apply, and share this opportunity with others. I am the NIA program officer for this funding, and I’d like to tell you a little more about it.

Photograph of Una Makris, M.D.

GEMSSTAR was my first NIH funding and provided timely support to help move my career to the next step… The GEMSSTAR award is ideal for junior investigators, often sub-specialists, committed to aging research. I was particularly excited about this [then] new funding mechanism because I knew I was competing for an R03 mechanism with peers, rather than more senior established investigators.

Una Makris, M.D.

2011 GEMSSTAR recipient, Assistant Professor, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Dallas VAMC

Junior faculty physicians are vulnerable.

We know that one of the most vulnerable times in an academic physician’s career occurs during his or her first years on faculty. This may be even more so for medical and surgical specialists who want to focus their research on aging/geriatrics topics. Training on these topics is rare in conventional specialty fellowships. So, that can leave a hole when it comes to the research experience and mentoring required for grant applications—a K award looks out of reach, and even the thought of an R21 is intimidating. (If you’re not familiar with these NIH grants, view a summary at Types of Grant Programs tutorial.) GEMSSTAR funding helps fill the gap during this vulnerable time.

This funding: what is GEMSSTAR?

GEMSSTAR: Grants for Early Medical and Surgical Specialists’ Transition to Aging Research.

Recipients of these awards merge their specialty expertise with research on aging and care of older patients. They implement pilot studies, gather preliminary data, publish, and grow their research skills.

GEMSSTAR has been likened to a pre-K award. It sets awardees on a track towards continued independent funding.

Am I eligible?

  • Physician. GEMSSTAR targets physicians (M.D. or D.O. degrees). It was established to attract medical and surgical specialists. This opportunity is available to internists, primary care physicians, hospitalists, geriatricians, psychiatrists, general surgeons, and others.
  • Junior Faculty. Applicants need to be in the first several years of their faculty appointment. It is okay to apply during the last year of fellowship, but you must have a faculty appointment that starts no later than the start of funding.
  • Not Much Previous NIH Funding. Applicants cannot have received an NIH investigator-initiated R01 grant. In rare cases, the applicant may have a K award in his or her specialty area of research, but now wishes to shift focus to aging/geriatrics, and needs new skills, experience, and data.
Photograph of Michael W. Yeh, M.D.

The current funding environment for biomedical research is quite intimidating. I think this is especially true for surgeons given that we spend a considerable portion of our week operating, which may put us at a disadvantage from an investigation standpoint in comparison to non-procedural physicians. This was my first federally funded grant, so for me, the best aspect of the grant was simply knowing for real that it was indeed possible to get funded, and then to experience the logistics of having a grant with a subcontract to our collaborating institution… With the support of the GEMSSTAR grant we were able to complete two major studies… The GEMSSTAR grant was instrumental in my promotion to associate professor.

Michael W. Yeh, M.D.

2011 GEMSSTAR recipient, Associate Professor & Chief, Section of Endocrine Surgery, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

GEMSSTAR = R03 from us + professional development funded by someone else.

The GEMSSTAR award combines an R03, a small 2-year research project of $75,000 per year in direct costs, with a concurrent professional development plan that awardees develop for themselves. This additional professional development may include classes, clinical geriatrics exposure, or conferences. Each grantee has a senior research collaborator with expertise in aging research as well as a mentor who oversees career development.

Importantly, applicants are responsible for securing secondary funding for this professional development. This is required, and there is a list of potential funders. Together, the NIA and professional development grants provide two years of support that starts in the summer of 2014.

Apply for a GEMSSTAR grant.

In fiscal year 2014, we hope to fund 13 to 15 GEMSSTAR awards. You can read more details in the GEMSSTAR Request for Applications RFA-AG-14-010, and the GEMSSTAR website, which contains GEMSSTAR FAQs.

Key GEMSSTAR deadlines.

Letter of Intent Due

September 21, 2013

Due Date for R03

October 21, 2013

R03 Review

January - February 2014

Professional Development Plan and Additional Funding Source Due*

May 2014

Professional Development Plan Review

May 2014

Funding Begins

July 2014

*for invited applicants

New in 2013-14: GEMSSTAR conference.

Starting with this next group of grantees, we’re going to have an annual NIA-led GEMSSTAR conference. This exciting new component will bring GEMSSTAR awardees, mentors, and NIA staff together for scientific collaboration, career development, and networking.

Why are we trying to entice medical and surgical specialists into aging research?

As we all know, the number of older adults is growing rapidly. As the Institute of Medicine highlighted in 2008, we need medical and surgical specialists experienced in aging research, as well as geriatricians and primary care providers. To improve care, the NIA wants to invest in a pipeline of physicians who will tackle research topics such as identifying appropriate treatments for patients, and cross-disciplinary care and communication.


Read Next:

Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists' Transition to Aging Research (GEMSSTAR)

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