Evidence of community structure in biomedical research grant collaborations.


Recent studies have clearly demonstrated a shift towards collaborative research and team science approaches across a spectrum of disciplines. Such collaborative efforts have also been acknowledged and nurtured by popular extramurally funded programs including the Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) conferred by the National Institutes of Health. Since its inception, the number of CTSA awardees has steadily increased to 60 institutes across 30 states. One of the objectives of CTSA is to accelerate translation of research from bench to bedside to community and train a new genre of researchers under the translational research umbrella. Feasibility of such a translation implicitly demands multi-disciplinary collaboration and mentoring. Networks have proven to be convenient abstractions for studying research collaborations. The present study is a part of the CTSA baseline study and investigates existence of possible community-structure in Biomedical Research Grant Collaboration (BRGC) networks across data sets retrieved from the internally developed grants management system, the Automated Research Information Administrator (ARIA) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Fastgreedy and link-community community-structure detection algorithms were used to investigate the presence of non-overlapping and overlapping community-structure and their variation across years 2006 and 2009. A surrogate testing approach in conjunction with appropriate discriminant statistics, namely: the modularity index and the maximum partition density is proposed to investigate whether the community-structure of the BRGC networks were different from those generated by certain types of random graphs. Non-overlapping as well as overlapping community-structure detection algorithms indicated the presence of community-structure in the BRGC network. Subsequent, surrogate testing revealed that random graph models considered in the present study may not necessarily be appropriate generative mechanisms of the community-structure in the BRGC networks. The discrepancy in the community-structure between the BRGC networks and the random graph surrogates was especially pronounced at 2009 as opposed to 2006 indicating a possible shift towards team-science and formation of non-trivial modular patterns with time. The results also clearly demonstrate presence of inter-departmental and multi-disciplinary collaborations in BRGC networks. While the results are presented on BRGC networks as a part of the CTSA baseline study at UAMS, the proposed methodologies are as such generic with potential to be extended across other CTSA organizations. Understanding the presence of community-structure can supplement more traditional network analysis as they're useful in identifying research teams and their inter-connections as opposed to the role of individual nodes in the network. Such an understanding can be a critical step prior to devising meaningful interventions for promoting team-science, multi-disciplinary collaborations, cross-fertilization of ideas across research teams and identifying suitable mentors. Understanding the temporal evolution of these communities may also be useful in CTSA evaluation.

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