Making a Difference with The Greenwall Foundation

We recently sat down with Michelle Groman of The Greenwall Foundation to discuss their Making a Difference in Real World Bioethics Dilemmas funding opportunity, and the spring 2016 grant cycle.

PRIM&R: For readers unfamiliar with The Greenwall Foundation, can you tell us a little about your organization?
Michelle Groman (MG): The Greenwall Foundation’s grant-making is focused solely on bioethics, primarily building and enriching the Greenwall Faculty Scholars Program in Bioethics – a career development award to enable junior faculty members to carry out innovative bioethics research. The Foundation decided that support for bioethics research is an important need and that it could have the most impact by continuing to invest in people who would become future leaders in the field of bioethics – young scholars who over their careers will address a number of important bioethics issues and train subsequent generations of bioethics researchers.

PRIM&R: So what led to the creation of your Making a Difference Program
MG: In 2013, the Foundation announced a new program for bioethics grants – Making a Difference in Real-World Bioethics Dilemmas – to support specific research projects to help resolve an important emerging or unanswered bioethics problem in order to improve clinical care, inform biomedical research, and enhance public health practice or public policy. The aim is to fund research that improves how bioethics issues are addressed in the real world. There are two funding cycles a year.

PRIM&R: Can you describe the impact of the Making a Difference Program?
MG: The Making a Difference Program is still relatively young. To date we have funded about 40 projects at almost 30 institutions – many of which remain ongoing or are just about to begin. To name just a few examples, we’re supporting projects that seek consensus for an operational definition of child assent in research, and examine clinical trial participants’ attitudes toward expanded access to participant-level data. These projects have great potential to impact best practices in research. In addition, The Greenwall Foundation is funding projects to address ethical issues in clinical care. An example is a study of the perspective of African-American patients towards hospital policies regarding interventions that physicians regard as not medically indicated.

PRIM&R: A new cycle of grants is being offered, with funding to commence in July, 2016. Can you describe what the Foundation is seeking in this cycle?
MG: We’re looking to fund projects that will have a real-world, practical impact, and have identified three priority topic areas for this cycle.

Perhaps of most interest to the PRIM&R community is a priority topic that is new this cycle: ethical and policy issues in new approaches to protecting research participants. With proposed revisions to the Common Rule underway, stakeholders are raising important questions about the effectiveness of existing and evolving research protections – questions concerning, for example, the distinction between biospecimens and information derived from biospecimens, the adequacy of privacy safeguards, alternative models of informed consent, additional safeguards and best practices for respecting potentially vulnerable individuals, and the operation of the minimal risk standard in practice.

Even though projects funded this cycle will not begin until after the NPRM comment deadline, they can still have a direct impact on additional rulemakings and guidance, and on operationalizing any new requirements.

The second priority topic is ethical and policy issues related to advances in biomedical research and the translation of research into clinical practice, including the increasing use of big data and mobile health applications in clinical care and research, advances in neuroscience and in research and clinical care of persons with degenerative brain diseases, and the impact of changes in the FDA regulatory process on access to new therapies and the safety of approved therapies.

The third priority topic is ethical and policy issues that are particularly salient in certain cultural, ethnic, and demographic communities, including dilemmas arising in health disparities research, in clinical and system interventions to reduce health disparities, and in clinical care.

We also welcome proposals outside of these priority areas that address real-world, practical bioethics problems.

PRIM&R: Letters of intent are due by January 8, 2016. Interested members of the PRIM&R community should review the request for proposals and application instructions on the Foundation’s website. Do you have any closing thoughts to encourage people in the PRIM&R community to consider applying for a grant? Words of wisdom?
MG: The PRIM&R community experiences bioethics dilemmas first-hand and can play a critical role in helping to resolve them. This on-the-ground perspective is important to the bioethics research we’re looking to fund through the Making a Difference Program.

Indeed, we prioritize funding for collaborative projects involving a bioethics scholar and persons working in other fields in which bioethics dilemmas arise, for example, clinical care, biomedical research, technology innovation, or public service. In our experience, when projects integrate ethics and practice perspectives, they are stronger and have greater potential to improve patient care, inform biomedical research, and enhance public policy.

We look forward to receiving letters of intent early next year and supporting this next cohort of important bioethics research projects.

Letters of intent for the spring 2016 grant cycle are due January 8, 2016.