Heart Association, Google Partnership Challenges Traditional Research Funding

The recently announced partnership between the American Heart Association and Google could mean more for medical research than new information on coronary heart disease.

Last week’s announcement that the American Heart Association (AHA) and Google Life Sciences are teaming up to fight heart disease is a divergence from the association’s traditional approach to research that could set a new precedent for the future.

Partnering with a group like Google is very different for the Heart Association, and I think it opens up a lot of scientific and funding possibilities.

“We’re interested in funding $50 million of research to this specific issue of coronary heart disease and doing it in a way that allows us to think about research in a very different way than we’ve traditionally thought about it,” said Dr. Robert Harrington, a science representative to AHA’s national board of directors.

The partnership between AHA and Google—and the resulting sum of money—marks a drastic change in the way medical research is funded, specifically in its coordination with a large technology company.

“Partnering with a group like Google is very different for the Heart Association, and I think it opens up a lot of scientific and funding possibilities,” Harrington said.

Instead of funding an individual through peer-review grants based on their existing ideas and how those fit into current work, this partnership backs a team that is yet to be selected to develop a plan for research. The team leader, a position open to anyone qualified, will have full access to AHA’s and Google Life Science’s resources.

Harrington, who is also a professor and chairman of medicine at Stanford University, said this new approach, while aiming to help prevent and reverse coronary heart disease, could initiate a change in thought throughout the medical research world.

“We see it as a way to stimulate new paradigms in the approach to research,” he said, “meaning rather than the incrementalism, which largely accompanies our current research paradigm, that we try some potentially disruptive ways of thinking of the research paradigm.”

Harrington said AHA will gauge the effectiveness of this funding method based on the partnership’s success, the leader application process, level of innovation, and power to get people involved in the work before deciding whether to engage in future partnerships.

The partnership between the two organizations began when they were already meeting in Silicon Valley over other projects for which AHA required insights from a technology company. The discussion evolved from addressing health problems to one over grants and resulted in this new project for coronary heart disease research.

While the announcement was met mostly with excitement, Harrington said there were some who questioned if this project was taking money away from traditional research funding methods. He clarified that AHA’s $25 million contribution to the partnership is solely from its reserve funds.

The association will continue providing traditional grants, but “AHA is also going to take some other chances on how to fund research, looking for new ways of funding it as well as new partners in funding,” Harrington said.


Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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