12 September 2003
MAKING THE RESEARCH DOLLAR WORK: OUTCOME FROM A SMALL RESEARCH FUNDING BODY
Researchers must be accountable in their use of funds from public donation, fundraising activities and private benefactors. Even for major institutions such as the National Health and Medical Research Council1 there are challenges in measuring outcomes. We recently evaluated the outcomes of grants provided by the Apex Foundation for Research into Intellectual Disability Ltd and we believe it is worthwhile reporting our findings. The Apex Foundation funds research into the causes and outcomes of intellectual disability. It was established in 1969 after a fund raising campaign by the Association of Apex Clubs and distributes about $60 000 per year.
A questionnaire was sent to 27 researchers who had received 33 grants over the period 1990−2000 inclusive. Replies were received from 30 (91%) of these grant recipients. From these projects, 113 papers were published in refereed journals. The median number of papers per grant was two (range (0−24)). Eight papers have been published in non-refereed journals and eight book chapters have resulted. There were a total of 129 podium presentations (27 local, 46 national and 56 international) and 39 poster presentations (six local, 19 national and 14 international) at scientific meetings. In summary, a total of 322 publications, book chapters and presentations resulted from these grants. Median and range per project were eight and (1−52), respectively. More publications will be forthcoming as some work is still in progress.
Only five respondents reported that the work undertaken did not lead to other projects. Further funding came from a range of sources including NHMRC (8), the Department of Human Services, the Australian Research Council and the National Institute of Health (US).
Some outcomes resulting from the diverse research conducted include: new findings about repair mechanisms and long-term consequences of early brain injury, a description of a possible mechanism for premature aging of individuals with Down Syndrome, the development of a tool for assessing communication profiles in school children and worldwide recognition of work undertaken on inherited epilepsy syndromes.
Given the relatively small amount of money, this result is outstanding and compares favourably with an earlier study evaluating NHMRC public health research grants2. The Apex Foundation can feel very satisfied with the outcome of their donated funds. This audit should encourage other trusts to evaluate the results of their funding and provide confidence to other groups wishing to donate research dollars or to set up similar funding bodies.