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New Mexico State Sees Federal Funding for Research Shrinking

LAS CRUCES, N.M.—New Mexico State University is facing a research funding squeeze.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Monday that research and development funds have decreased more than 16 percent at NMSU as competition has increased for scarcer federal funding.

For fiscal year 2010, the peak of federal stimulus initiatives, NMSU’s sponsored awards expenditures were $163 million.

That dropped to $157 in 2011 and $136 million last year.

“It’s tough times right now,” says Jeff Arterburn, who is working to develop a new class of drugs to combat breast cancer. “It’s very, very competitive.”

The National Institutes of Health has funded his research for many years. But the agency has recently shifted its focus to research done at the end of drug development, like clinical trials, rather than the beginning, like testing with cell cultures, he said.

If the funding isn’t renewed, his research could stop.

More than 85 percent of NMSU’s research funds comes from federal agencies, compared to an average 70 percent at most universities, said Vimal Chaitanya, NMSU’s vice president for research.

Agriculture funds have especially taken a hit as state and federal appropriations for the industry’s research have “disappeared,” Chaitanya said, significantly impacting one of the university’s most prominent departments.

Faculty proposals to request research funds are also down at NMSU, from more than 800 in fiscal year 2010 to about 660 in fiscal year 2012.

Some grants established new rules limiting how many research proposals can come from one university, Chaitanya said. That leads to a university vetting process before the proposals even reach the funding organizations, he said.

Meanwhile, nationwide, more people are applying for research funds, NMSU officials said.

Still, some of NMSU’s peer institutions have seen research expenditures rise in the past few years.

The University of New Mexico spent $134.2 million in fiscal year 2011, up from about $120 million in 2010 and $115 million in 2009.

Texas Tech University’s funds have increased from $85.9 million in fiscal year 2009 to $142.7 million in fiscal year 2011.

But those universities are larger and have medical schools.

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