How an AHA Research Award is Given

American Heart Association research awards are limited to non-profit institutions, including: medical, osteopathic and dental schools, veterinary schools, schools of public health, pharmacy schools, nursing schools, universities and colleges, public and voluntary hospitals and others that can demonstrate the ability to conduct the proposed research. Funding is prohibited at non-U.S. institutions.

Applications will not be accepted for work with funding to be administered through any federal institution or work to be performed by a federal employee, except for Veterans Administration employees.

The process for applying is via ProposalCentral, our Web-based electronic system. ProposalCentral is available 24/7 with internet connection. The system is used for various roles, such as:

  • Researchers who want to apply for funding
  • Peer Reviewers to accomplish their tasks for pre and post review processes, including virtual meetings
  • Grants Officers to manage pre-award administration
  • Fiscal Officers to manage post-award administration

Program Promotion

AHA uses various methods of publicity that may include:

  • Posting program descriptions on our Web site
  • E-mail to medical schools and universities
  • Exchange e-mails with societies/organizations
  • Handouts and exhibits at our annual Scientific Sessions and various other conferences
  • Notices in association and professional journals
  • Promotion by affiliates and by word of mouth
  • Monthly publication of the Research Insider

Application Submission

Interested researchers should first review the program descriptions for eligibility requirements and restrictions.

To be considered, a research project must be structured according to the scientific method. This implies that the researcher has formed a hypothesis and developed methods to test the hypothesis. It further implies that the researcher will acquire evidence to support or reject the hypothesis and publish the results.

If eligible, the researcher applies using the ProposalCentral system.

Application Review and Meeting

When an application is submitted to the American Heart Association, it is assigned to a peer review committee based on the applicants' science classification choice and the chairperson's confirmation that the application and study section science match. Sometimes applications are "brokered" to another review committee because of science content or conflict of interest issues. Two scientists from the peer review committee provide independent, in-depth review. A third reviewer is also assigned as a reader of the proposal to assist with differences of opinions and to balance the discussion. These scientists are assigned a particular application based on their knowledge of the science and methods contained in the application. Each scientist from a peer review committee is assigned a limited number of applications to review in detail. All peer review committee members can access all applications in their committee, if not in conflict, and may review on their own initiative applications not specifically assigned to them. To prepare for the meeting, assigned reviewers give a preliminary score to applications.

The ProposalCentral system allows for nearly all review meetings to be held virtually, however, a small number of meetings are performed face-to-face. Each expert presents an analysis of the applications he or she has reviewed. The committee discusses the scientific merit of each proposal and then each committee member privately assigns a score from 1.0 to 5.0 to each. A score of 1.0 is best. After the application is scored, the individual merit scores are averaged into an overall value. Then all proposals from a particular peer review committee are ranked in order of merit.

Committee members who have a conflict of interest, such as those who have a professional or personal relationship with an applicant, are

  1. Excused from the room when a face-to-face discussion takes place or
  2. Their access to the system and to conversation is blocked during virtual meetings. A member who is in conflict cannot view the application and therefore cannot give it a score.

How Funding Decisions Are Made

After applications are reviewed and scored, rank-ordered lists from each study section are divided according to the funding component an applicant has applied to (National Center or an affiliate).

Each funding component then arranges their scores by program. A component’s Research Committee allocates funds across the various programs to achieve the committee’s pre-determined goals for balancing the available funds. Applications are funded according to their rank order to ensure that the most promising and meritorious are supported. All award recommendations of the research committees are subject to approval by the appropriate affiliate or national board of directors.

Award Activation and Management

Applicants who are to receive awards are notified by e-mail and the process of award activation begins. This includes an agreement with the American Heart Association that they will complete the proposed research. This is the legal contract between the association and the institution receiving association funds on behalf of a principal investigator. Association awards are administered through the institution (typically a university or medical school) where the awardee works. The institution is responsible for seeing that the research is properly conducted. Awardees must submit annual progress and expenditure reports for review by the sponsoring association research committee.

Awardees who receive funding for the same project from another source (such as the National Institutes of Health) must choose between that award and the American Heart Association award.

The American Heart Association staff and research committee volunteers monitor the progress of awards, which may last one to five years, depending on the program. This management includes responding to requests for changes to the project, such as re-budgeting project personnel changes. Each year the principal investigator submits a report of scientific progress. The institution’s fiscal officer submits an expenditures report documenting how the association’s funding was spent. Expenditure reports are audited by AHA staff.

During the period for which the award is funded, the investigator conducts research according to the plan outlined in the research application. The researcher usually publishes articles in scientific journals or makes presentations at scientific meetings describing the results of his or her research.

At the end of the award, principal investigators are asked to complete a survey documenting their career progress and productivity during the American Heart Association award. Measures include academic promotion, additional funding obtained and publications produced.

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