UI research, external funding, survives Hunninghake’s absence

by Gigi Wood

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA – When the University of Iowa announced its external funding for the most recent fiscal year recently, there was one omission compared to recent years.

UI officials announced July 20 that external funding for research jumped 9 percent to a record $466.5 million. The total for fiscal 2010, the 12-month period ending June 30, exceeded one-third of a billion dollars for the ninth consecutive year. Since 1967, when overall records were first kept, the university has attracted $7.1 billion in total external support.

Typically, the annual conference generates a conversation about the work of Gary Hunninghake, director of the UI Institute for Clinical and Translation Science. In 2009, Mr. Hunninghake was the top UI research grant earner at $14.2 million, compared to the $8.6 million he had secured the year before, for his research aimed at improving patient care.

This year, that conversation did not take place. Mr. Hunninghake has been on leave since he became involved in a police investigation launched in April after he reported being stabbed and robbed in Chicago. Since then he has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for what police said was making false reports.

The principal investigator section on the more than 20 grants his research generated no longer bears his name. Instead, the work has been split up amongst countless faculty and researchers at the UI, said Jordan Cohen, UI’s interim vice president for research and economic development.

“He is on leave, and being on leave, he has not been connected directly at all with any of his federal funding, including the larger (grants),” he said. “And all of those have been essentially reassigned to other investigators, and all of the grants are here and they’re all functioning normally.”

When the UI reported its external funding numbers, it included Mr. Hunninghake’s work, which is being completed by his colleagues.

“The totals are all right,” Mr. Cohen said. “But as a faculty member not active on the grants, he wasn’t listed that way.”
Shifting research from one investigator to another is not unheard of, Mr. Cohen said.

“Occasionally faculty go on sabbatical, they will take ill or something,” he said. “The funding stays and all we have to do is assure the agency that we have the proper oversight for the grant and that the grant is functioning the way we said it would when we put the proposal in. All that was done with all of these grants, so it’s business as usual for all of the funding.”

In the case of Mr. Hunninghake’s grants, the UI worked closely with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify alternative principal investigators.

“Different faculty were assigned to different proposals,” he said. “We had to make sure they had the qualifications and to make sure all of the research was done the same way. There wasn’t one person who picked up all the things associated with him at this point. Much of our science is team science.”
NIH?declined to comment.

When it comes time to renew Mr. Hunninghake’s grants, Mr. Cohen is confident the new investigators will secure them.

“No renewal is automatic,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the same professor or another investigator, so it all depends on how well it’s written and how much progress you’ve made in the past.”

When a competitive grant application is submitted, it is compared to other applications and is reviewed to make sure the work is being accomplished, whether Mr. Hunninghake is on the faculty or not, Mr. Cohen said.

“There is nothing more or less certain about any of that,” he said. “That set of criteria is the same in any situation. But we’re confident we have the highest-quality people leading the programs. We’re as confident as we can be we will be competitive for renewal. Some of that depends on available funding. In some situations there’s just not enough funding to fund everything that had been funded. We work in that world a lot.”

Mr. Hunninghake’s trial is set for Sept. 16. The 63-year-old researcher is paid about $332,000 by the UI. CBJ