The past two decades have seen a dramatic surge in global health funding. Biomedical and health research is now touted one of the most funded fields in the world – the research and development (R&D) cost has seen a hike from $5.6 billion (1998) to a whopping $27.7 billion (2011). (The Lancet, 2009)

Medical research is time-consuming and costly. It is teamwork that requires financial and technical assistance. Government and private funding agencies are the lifelines of health research. While most of the funding is reserved for program development and implementation, a chunk of it goes for health research. Grant funds are therefore highly coveted; they fund and sustain the research, be it lengthy or short.

Biomedical research is an ongoing process; it keeps improving and getting better in terms of quality medical treatment, cure, technological advancement, and diagnostic modalities. A health researcher – say an early-career investigator or a veteran physician-scientist – is therefore always on the lookout for a grant to conduct the research.

There are several grant funding agencies; exploring the right one makes all the difference for your research. This guide entails the federal and nonfederal funding agencies and the pros and cons of each for the potential grantees.


Looking for Grants at State Level

Washington DC is the center of national wealth. All the federal grant money flows toward the city, is approved by the Congress, and then distributed to each state capital as per the:

  • Headcount, i.e., population size
  • Entitlement, i.e., legislative regulation and distribution
  • Competition, i.e., based on grant application quality

The states, in return, make grant announcements through their official websites and grant programs. The state grants may be:

  • Re-grants, i.e., grants made as a result of money trickling down from the federal government
  • Individual Grant Programs, i.e., developed by the state itself

So the state you live in, say New York or Washington may have a grant program catering to your needs. Check the state website for any grant announcements and sign up for updates and alerts.

However, in truth, the majority of the states do not publish the grant funding announcement. This means you ought to be vigilant enough to look for one yourself. To stay abreast of the updates, surf through the state website every other day to catch up on the new announcements.

Another thing to keep in mind is that state awards are not large enough to support extensive or lengthy research projects. In fact, vis-à-vis federal grants, state grants are really tiny. Nonetheless, they are easy to obtain. You have a better chance of securing a state grant because here the grant application load is far less than that of the federal level.

To summarize the points of securing a grant funding opportunity at the state level, you should:

  • Keep checking the state government’s website – to get a listing of all state grants. For example, if you are in Washington, the website is In case you do not know the direct link to the state website, use Google or Yahoo search. It is easy, should not take more than a few seconds before you land on the accurate link.
  • Stay in touch with the state agency – by contacting the staff from time to time inquiring about legislative funding mandates.
  • Check your emails regularly – so that you do not miss out on any grant funding alert. Download the grant funding application and check:
  • Your eligibility by reading the instructions
  • Application submission date
  • Number and types of grants available


Looking for Grants at the Local Government Level

If you are in a county, village, or a town and are looking for a local grant, you ought to look at:

  • County Board of Commissioners
  • County Social Services
  • Regional Housing Authorities
  • Mayor’s Office on Neighborhoods
  • Local Area Agencies on Aging
  • Federal Community Development Block Grant administrator

All of the above agencies receive funding from the federal government. You need to be vigilant of these grant opportunities because like state governments, not all announcements are made through the website. You are likely to miss the announcement if you do not stay updated. You need to develop strong ties and links with the agencies to track down the opportunity. Be aggressive in your pursuit.


Looking for Grants at Federal Level

Federal grants are of two types:

  • Direct Grants: These grants are available directly through the federal government. You can apply for these grants directly without having to contact or approach an intermediary.
  • Pass-through Grants: These grants are available through your relevant state. The state first applies to the federal government for the grant/money and after approval, awards the winning applicants in the state. The grants are made available through open applications or formula allocations.
·         Direct Grants – Pros & Cons


The biggest benefit of applying for the Direct Grant is that you do not have to go through extra layers to reach the grant. The announcement is made, and all applications are welcomed. The direct application gives you a chance of dealing with the federal program officer. The program officers are a wealth of knowledge. You can ask them as many questions about the grants and applications as you have and they will be glad to cooperate with you. The program officers are easily available and accessible. You can email your questions or reservations or call them directly. The direct contact is the best way to get your apprehensions addressed in the swiftest manner. Besides, the suggestions and advice from the program officer can help with the research topic as well as the application structure.

However, you are advised to avoid being a nuisance. Do not contact over and over again for seemingly petty questions. The program officers are professionals trained to address dozens of enquires per day. An ethical way to contact the officer is to get your questions ready in advance and ask them one by one. Even better is to write an email instead of calling directly.

An important thing to keep in mind is that there may be a deadline to submit grant queries. This deadline is given in the grant application instructions made available with the announcement. You can also check the FAQs of the funding body’s website.

Another benefit of Direct Grants is free to access to information which is extremely valuable if you are new to the grant process. Many funding agencies offer a webcast giving you a free invite to be part of the discussion where the staff members discuss the:

  • Process overview
  • Application structure
  • Request for Proposal (RFP)
  • Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)
  • Submission process
  • Request for Application (RFA)
  • Notice of Funding
  • Availability (NOFA) announcement

As a participant, you will be able to communicate with the experts directly and gain valuable insight into the process.


Federal grants are highly competitive and difficult to obtain. Because they invite applications from all over the country, the chances of winning one are slim. A single application is practically competing with tens of thousands of applications poured from over 50 U.S. states. Any application with quality less than stellar stands a next-to-none chance to win the grant. Also, the number of awards is awfully limited.

To make matters worse, even the state funding agencies compete for the federal awards. State agencies have a quota in the federal grant monies; urban and rural are usually the first on the list to receive the grant for social programs including health and education etc. This further narrows down your chances of obtaining the grant.

Because of this precise reason, the majority of new or early-career investigators become frustrated and lose hope. (McGovern, 2012)

·         Pass-Through Grants – Pros & Cons


The biggest advantage of applying through the Pass-Through Grant is that you are competing against a limited number of applications only, i.e., Pass-Through Grants are state-distributed only. Compared to the federal grant, Pass-Through grants receive only a few hundred or fewer applications. This increases your chances of getting a decent sum of money for your research.

Moreover, the state agencies are legally instructed to provide relevant information to all the applicants. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides each applicant the permission to acquire the list of the previous grantees and awardees. The list contains the names of all grant recipients as well as the winning applications. A look at the winning applications is the ultimate dream of every applicant. It is literally the best guide to help cruise through the grant scrutiny process with confidence.


The only disadvantage of Pass-Through grants is that compared to government and state grants, they are smaller. Pass-through grants are basically sub-awards available within the state’s jurisdiction. These awards first “pass through” the federal government to the states and then to local departments and jurisdiction. The state takes a fixed amount of money through these grants to meet administrative costs. What is left is distributed locally, politically, and geographically. The grants are allocated as per the population distribution and the success history. For instance, more grant funds may go to an area that has not had a history of winning grants. Local senators are also known to influence the government funds to suit their agenda.




  1. The Lancet. (2009, June 20) Who runs global health? Lancet, 373-2038.
  2. Hendriks, T.C. & Viergever, R.F. (2016, February 18). The 10 largest public and philanthropic funders of health research in the world: what they fund and how they distribute their funds. Health Res Policy Syst, 14, 12.
  3. McGovern, V. (2012, January 1). Getting grants. Virulence, 3(1), 1–11.