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  December 1, 2003

Health Center Joins
NIH Pilot Project

The Health Center was one of four universities nationwide to complete and submit an electronic grant application to the National Institutes of Health recently.

"This heralds the end of the era of paper-based grant application submissions to NIH, and ushers in the new age of electronic submissions," said Leonard Paplauskas, associate vice president for research administration. "We've been waiting for this moment for years."

The submissions were made as part of an NIH initiative responding to President Bush's electronic government management agenda.

"E-Government" uses improved Internet-based technology to make it easier for citizens and businesses to interact with the government and to save money.

The institutions joining UConn in the experiment were the universities of Illinois and Miami, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Each used proprietary software from InfoEd International Inc., an Albany, N.Y.-based provider of software that enables paperless management of research proposals, protocols, clinical trials, and related intellectual property disclosures.

The UConn Health Center grant application was a $1.8 million, five-year proposal from Dr. T.V. Rajan, professor and head of pathology, to look at the role of antibodies in inflammation.

Rajan is well versed in new technologies. In the early 1990's, he was one of a trio of faculty and staff that prepared a grant for the National Science Foundation and successfully brought the Internet connection to the Health Center.

"The capability to submit a grant electronically is overdue, if anything," Rajan said. "It's about time this happened."

Once the system is fully operational, investigators will only have to fill out an online template providing basic information about their proposal. The program will calculate the budget: salaries, fringe and benefit rates, and indirect costs. It is also capable of reshuffling information to conform to other agencies' formatting requirements. So a grant application formatted and intended for NIH could be simultaneously submitted to the National Science Foundation or the Department of Defense, for example.

"At least that's the vision," Paplauskas said.

Transmitting the grant to the funding agency is a matter of pushing a key rather than bundling five or six copies and shipping them by mail, or courier, to Washington.

Electronic submission offers great advantages in internal processing, too. Hard copies of grants won't have to be schlepped from investigator to department head to dean to Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

The birth of the program wasn't pain-free. Rajan is concerned about the agency's handling of the grant after the application was submitted.

"There have been lots of glitches," he said. "The number of people involved is small and the technology is nothing esoteric. For instance, after we submitted, NIH called and asked for five print copies as well. If they had the pdf file, why didn't they just make printouts?

"But the software did its job," he added. "That part was easy."

ORSP has been working on a number of paperless research-related initiatives since 1999, including compliance, human subjects, lab animal management, technology transfer, and proposal tracking.

Project and systems manager Nancy Dean, and Laura Geary, a systems administrator, said they were pleased to be selected to participate in the program and were satisfied with how it worked.

"I think it was fantastic that we were one of four universities nationwide to be selected to submit a grant electronically," said Geary. "You have to be a cutting-edge institution to do this."

Added Dean, "There are some kinks that need to be worked out, but there will be with any new technology. Our trial was successful. We'll deal with the glitches."