The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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State, national news

December 2, 2013

Impatient with NIH, cancer researcher turns to crowdfunding

MINNEAPOLIS — Dr. Daniel Saltzman says he can prove that bacteria that ordinarily cause food poisoning in people can be modified for use as guided missiles to deliver cancer-killing payloads into tumors.

But he needs $500,000 for some preliminary work, and despite his project’s potential, he’s not holding his breath for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s leading source of biomedical research grants.

So Saltzman has teamed up with an entrepreneur in the television industry and Twin Cities advertising and public relations professionals to make an unusual direct appeal to the public. In the process, he’s helping to bring so-called crowdsourcing to the field of medical research.

“This is very different … and so there has to be a leap of faith” for the research to be funded, said Saltzman, surgeon-in-chief at Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and an associate professor at the University of Minnesota.

To convince people of his work’s promise, Saltzman and his partner have built a website branding his research “Project Stealth,” created an eye-catching plush toy to represent the salmonella bacterium, made a video featuring Saltzman and a golden retriever named Buddy, and turned to private fundraising events and crowdfunding avenues like Razoo.com.

Saltzman, who has raised about $32,000 since launching Project Stealth in mid-October, acknowledges that the approach is unusual. But he says that, with federal research funds getting tighter every year, he had little choice.

“The bottom line is, there’s a lot of competition, a lot of labs, and only so much money.”

Saltzman is not the first scientist who turned to public appeals for funding in an era of tight federal research budgets. Over the past decade, inflation has eroded more than 20 percent of the buying power of NIH grants for scientists studying genomics, neurology, cancer, heart disease and countless other health issues. With so many competing projects, NIH has reduced the percentage of requests it has funded.

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