Federal and foundational research funding trends for cerebrovascular neurosurgeons: the decline of the cerebrovascular surgeon-scientist?

J Neurosurg. 2024 May 24:1-10. doi: 10.3171/2024.2.JNS232287. Online ahead of print.


Objective: The number of cerebrovascular (CV) surgeons has grown with the rise of endovascular neurosurgery. However, it is unclear whether the number of CV surgeon-scientists has concomitantly increased. With increasing numbers of CV neurosurgeons in the US workforce, the authors analyzed associated changes in National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation (NREF) funding trends for CV surgeons over time.

Methods: Publicly available data were collected on currently practicing academic CV surgeons in the US. Inflation-adjusted NIH funding between 2009 and 2021 was surveyed using NIH RePORTER and Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research data. The K12 Neurosurgeon Research Career Development Program and NREF grant data were queried for CV-focused grants. Pearson R correlation, chi-square analysis, and the Mann-Whitney U-test were used for statistical analysis.

Results: From 2009 to 2021, NIH funding increased: in total (p = 0.0318), to neurosurgeons (p < 0.0001), to CV research projects (p < 0.0001), and to CV surgeons (p = 0.0018). During this time period, there has been an increase in the total number of CV surgeons (p < 0.0001), the number of NIH-funded CV surgeons (p = 0.0034), and the percentage of CV surgeons with NIH funding (p = 0.370). Additionally, active NIH grant dollars per CV surgeon (p = 0.0398) and the number of NIH grants per CV surgeon (p = 0.4257) have increased. Nevertheless, CV surgeons have been awarded a decreasing proportion of the overall pool of neurosurgeon-awarded NIH grants during this time period (p = 0.3095). In addition, there has been a significant decrease in the number of K08, K12, and K23 career development awards granted to CV surgeons during this time period (p = 0.0024). There was also a significant decline in the proportion of K12 (p = 0.0044) and downtrend in early-career NREF (p = 0.8978) grant applications and grants awarded during this time period. Finally, NIH-funded CV surgeons were more likely to have completed residency less recently (p = 0.001) and less likely to have completed an endovascular fellowship (p = 0.044) as compared with non-NIH-funded CV surgeons.

Conclusions: The number of CV surgeons is increasing over time. While there has been a concomitant increase in the number of NIH-funded CV surgeons and the number of NIH grants awarded per CV surgeon in the past 12 years, there has also been a significant decrease in CV surgeons with K08, K12, and K23 career development awards and a downtrend in CV-focused K12 and early-career NREF applications and awarded grants. The latter findings suggest that the pipeline for future NIH-funded CV surgeons may be in decline.

Keywords: NIH funding; academic neurosurgery; cerebrovascular neurosurgery; endovascular neurosurgery; research funding; surgeon-scientist.