The next generation of scientists are clear in what they want: training and support for innovative, nonanimal, human-centered research. In a public comment, the Physicians Committee urged the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make that happen.
In academic biomedical research, scientists follow a standard career path taking on semi-independent postdoctoral research positions after their doctoral training called “postdocs” to aid in the transition to independent faculty research positions. These positions allow scientists to hone their research skills and learn new methodologies. But postdocs are leaving academia at an alarming rate, threatening the future of the biomedical workforce, and the NIH is trying to figure out why.
Through our ERA21 program engaging early-career researchers and other efforts to address the research bias toward animal experimentation, the Physicians Committee has heard first-hand accounts of the challenges that young researchers face if they don’t want to use animals. These fresh new scientists should be rewarded for innovative thinking; instead they are told they must conform to using methodologies they find ethically questionable and scientifically inadequate, and it takes an exhausting toll on their well-being.
To solve the postdoc crisis, the NIH must course correct and shift its priorities to invest in training, infrastructure, and funding for nonanimal, human-specific research approaches. The Physicians Committee provided the agency with detailed recommendations to improve biomedical research training, including to support early-career researchers through concentrated training opportunities like the Summer School on Innovative Approaches in Science and to develop a catalog of training materials and resources like the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Approach Methods Training. Industry has already begun the shift away from animals for drug development and product testing. It’s time for the NIH to bring biomedical research up to speed and support early-career scientists with the tools and funding they need to perform ethical and effective human-specific research.