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October 23, 2017 Morris Animal Foundation, at any given point in time, is funding more than 200 active studies that advance the health of animals around the world. But how do those studies get selected? What is the secret sauce that makes the Foundation’s process so respected by researchers, veterinarians and donors alike? Let’s reveal the recipe.

Three times a year, Morris Animal Foundation brings together volunteer teams of top-notch veterinary scientists with one objective – select the best, most innovative studies worthy of receiving funding from the Foundation. The task of our Scientific Advisory Boards is not an enviable one – they carefully evaluate upwards of 150 proposals in each of three annual funding cycles to find well-designed, impactful and essential animal health studies.

Members of the three separate boards put aside any personal interests (or favorite species!) to ensure the money donated by Foundation supporters is used wisely. These tireless volunteers are Morris Animal Foundation’s secret to funding unbiased and diversified health studies for the benefit of animals worldwide.

Each advisory board, with between eight and 12 members each, specializes in one of the Foundation’s three focus areas: small animal (dogs and cats); large animal (horses, llamas and alpacas), and wildlife/exotics. Board members are chosen to represent the diversity of veterinary specialties, from oncology to infectious disease, as well as general practice.

The First Cut

Morris Animal Foundation begins the grant process by soliciting grant applications from prominent institutions around the world. Each grant cycle represents different species – dogs and cats; horses, alpacas and llamas; and wildlife. Occasionally, a special call will go out for targeted areas of research.

The first task of the advisory boards is to whittle the competition down to grants of the highest quality, caliber and impact on animal health. After this process, approximately 80 to 100 grants per grant cycle are eligible to receive full reviews at the scientific meeting.

At the Second Round

Each grant that makes the first cut is assigned two volunteer scientific advisory board reviewers. These reviewers independently read and rate the study looking at:

  • Scientific Merit – Quality of the design, methods and data analysis 
  • Potential Impact – Importance of the study in solving a significant animal health issue
  • Attainable Objectives – Likelihood that the objectives can be completed in the proposed timeline
  • Appropriateness of Budget - Justification and suitability of proposed budget for the problem that needs to be solved

Meeting of the Minds

Each scientific advisory board convenes to discuss the grants submitted for that particular grant cycle during different times of the year. Scientific advisory board meetings are held in conjunction with the Foundation’s board meetings.

  •    Small Animal Scientific Advisory Board – June
  •     Large Animal Scientific Advisory Board– October
  •     Wildlife/Exotics Scientific Advisory Board - March

Both initial reviewers present the merits and potentially problematic areas of their assigned grants to their respective scientific advisory board members. Based on these presentations and group discussions, every scientific advisory board member privately ranks the grants using an automated voting system. Scores are electronically tallied. By the end of the meeting, and after several days of deliberation, approximately 10 percent of the grants receive funding.

Highly competitive, prestigious and respected

Receiving a Foundation grant is highly competitive and depends not only on quality and impact, but on the amount of available funding, and the number of proposals submitted for a given health issue or species group.

Using a panel of outside experts helps ensure that proposals are reviewed in a fair and unbiased manner. Morris Animal Foundation staff members don’t vote on the proposals, and can’t offer opinions unless specifically asked by the advisory team. The process is much like a legal trial – the scientific advisory board is the jury, and the Foundation acts like a judge – there to clarify Foundation guidelines, but unable to vote in the process.

Any study that involves animals, whether owned by clients or cared for by a study team, is evaluated thoroughly by the Foundation’s Animal Welfare Advisory Board to ensure all animals are respected, cared for, and receive the highest quality veterinary treatment. The majority of our studies that include animals are clinical trials with client-owned pets in which new treatments, new diagnostic tools or surgical advances are being evaluated.

Morris Animal Foundation’s scientific advisory boards are a model that’s been duplicated by other institutions and remain the gold standard in the scientific community. For animal health researchers, obtaining a Morris Animal Foundation grant is considered a major career achievement. In addition, it’s considered a great honor to be asked to serve on one of our Scientific Advisory Boards. Our former advisory board members become supporters for life and are our biggest “cheerleaders” in the scientific community.

How you can help

Our researchers tell us that the need for animal health funding is immense and growing. With more funding, we could invest in more projects and help more animals. Join us and help advance the health of the millions of species that share our planet. Your gift will help fund important health studies that will change the life of an animal, breed or even an entire species.