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The National Institute of Health, or NIH, is a part of the federal government that is responsible for funding, facilitating, and conducting research that improves the health of the nation and the world.

Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, are a major health problem for the American people. Because of this, and patient advocacy work, they are very much on the NIH’s radar.

The NIH supports research by offering grants (packages of money to support research). They also encourage collaboration between different scientific fields. NIH funded research projects include studies on lupus, specific aspects of lupus, or similar diseases. 

Scientists and interested researchers can easily find opportunities for grants and apply for them through their grant search engine, which can be found here. The available grants are publicly available in this index, here.

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What is a Grant?

A grant is a non-repayable package of money or other resources given by one party (in this case the National Institute of Health) to a nonprofit agency, educational institution, research institution, business, or individual. Grants are tailored to particular groups and uses. The money is transferred (or “awarded”) using a “funding award,” which is a contract that states how much money is being received and what terms and conditions the researcher or organization must follow (in addition to what they may have stated in their application.)

The NIH uses taxpayer money to fund ideas and projects that provide public health services, improve medical services, increase our knowledge of diseases, and determine new avenues for medicines. The NIH makes reports on its funded research available to the public, which you can see here.

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How is NIH funding used?

The NIH funds research exploring hot new topics in the lupus and autoimmune field, such as the microbiome and biologics. They are also very interested in research that helps find the root of autoimmune diseases.

The Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP) is an NIH initiative first established in 2014. It works with pharmaceutical companies to encourage collaboration and speed up brainstorming and research progress. Specifically, the AMP focuses on particular gene expression, signaling, and biological pathways in lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Determining these pathways will help find potential new drugs to treat lupus or even send it into remission. It is possible, and AMP helps move that research into clinical trials faster and, eventually, to the public.

The NIH is not the only funder for lupus research efforts, but it does support the efforts of nonprofit organizations such as the Lupus Research Alliance who then offer their own grants and awards. However, most of their grant funds come from the public, both through donations and fundraising.

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Advocacy and NIH funding

The NIH has many priorities for improving the health of the American people, and limited funds. Several of their other priorities do help people with lupus. This includes research and initiatives that:

  • fight the opioid epidemic
  • improve access to medical care in rural areas
  • work to destigmatize, better understand, and treat mental health and the effects of stress on the body

Advocacy groups such as the Lupus Foundation of America help keep lupus high enough on the NIH’s (and Congress, the organization that determines what funds the NIH receives) priority list to get grants and funding for lupus research. For example, the 2019 lupus advocacy summit pushed congress to support health-related agencies and specific research programs at other agencies (including the department of defense!)

You can read more about advocacy and lupus here.

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