It may come as a surprise to many that the Department of Defense (DoD) funds medical research, including food allergy research. But, in fact, the Pentagon has a robust and unique medical research program that has funded grants to food
allergy research projects.
The origins of the DoD medical research program dates back to the early 1990s when Congress anticipated a budget windfall following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Congress decided to use some of the “peace dividend” for medical research. Furthermore, members of Congress specifically told DoD what disease research to fund, hence the name, “The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.” The program has had a number of specific line items for different kinds of cancer research as well Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others. Over the years, however, demand from disease advocates became so great that Congress also created a subset program called the “Peer-reviewed Medical Research Program” that has a pot of funding to conduct research among a menu of diseases and conditions. Last year that funding stood at $200 million with more than 25 diseases eligible for research. Among them were food allergies.
How do they decide what research to fund? The decisions are based on the submissions by medical researchers. When grants applications are submitted in any of the disease types they are scored on the quality and structure of the proposal. In essence, the best applications win.
In contrast to research funded at the National Institutes of Health, the DoD medical research program has some unique features. First of all, because they are working with limited pools of money, the DoD program will fund bold experiments, or ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research projects rather than a more incremental approach favored by NIH. Consequently, the military program also does not necessarily need the preliminary data required by NIH. Another unique feature of the DoD program—that also differs from NIH—is the inclusion of consumer reviewers in their research panels. Individuals with the disease under study are asked to be part of the review panel that will evaluate the grant applications.
FARE has been active in leveraging this program to expand the resources available for food allergy research. On the front end, FARE has worked with Congressional supporters to ensure that food allergy research is an eligible disease under the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. After the program is funded, FARE was asked by the DoD to recommend candidates to be consumer advisors on the review panels. And finally, FARE rallies the food allergy research community to submit applications and increase the odds that more food allergy projects will have funding support.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of FARE’s Food Allergy News. Read more of the newsletter here.