UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Pilot Program

Proposal Due Date: November 1, 2021 at 5 p.m. ET

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Pilot Program is intended to support the development of cancer research led by Hillman members and to stimulate new applications for extramural funding. All UPMC Hillman Cancer Center members are encouraged to apply. 

  • This program funds pilot awards, up to $50,000 for one year  
  • Within each category, proposals will be accepted in the following science tracks: 
    • Basic Science  
    • Clinical/Translational Science  
    • Population Science  
  • The targeted research areas are pre-clinical imaging and cancer survivorship. Please see below for details. 
  • Awards have an expected start date of January 1, 2022
For this cycle:
    • Clinical and postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented minority populations can apply 
    • The Hillman Developmental Pilot Program has now incorporated the NCI priority areas of inter and intra-programmatic collaboration; diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI); and catchment area-related research. While not a requirement for funding, the inclusion of these areas will favorably affect the score. Incorporation of DEI can be either the inclusion of underrepresented minority investigators/staff or a scientific question pertaining to underrepresented minorities

Please direct any questions to Moira Hitchens at hitchensm2@upmc.edu.

Terms of the Award

  • Funds should be expended within one year of receipt.
  • Contact Moira Hitchens, PhD (hitchensm2@upmc.edu), for requests to change the start date or extend the funding period (no-cost extension).
  • A report summarizing financial expenditures and scientific outcomes of the project will be required after the end of funding or earlier if warranted.
  • When requested, all awardees will be expected to provide updates of publications and long-term grant support that originated from the award.
  • Faculty awardees may be asked to participate in the review process for four future rounds (two years).


Principal Investigators must have a University of Pittsburgh faculty appointment and be a Hillman Cancer Center member or be a fellow from an underrepresented minority group. Membership requires going through an application process that can be found on the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center website. If you are unsure about whether you are a current Hillman Cancer Center member, please contact Stacy Fitzsimmons (fitzsimmonss3@upmc.edu).

Applicants can be PI or MPI on only one proposal per mechanism (Pilot Awards or Team Science Awards) but can be named on multiple or other proposals as a Co-Investigator. 

Individuals currently receiving Hillman Developmental Pilot Program funding as a PI or MPI are not eligible to apply.


Proposals will be judged by the following criteria:

  • Scientific merit
  • Innovation
  • Cancer relevance
  • Inclusion of high priority areas (DEI, catchment area, and collaboration)
  • Qualifications, experience and productivity of the applicant(s)
  • Project feasibility given facilities, budget, time, and other resources available
  • Potential for future external funding and publications
  • Budget


Proposal review committees will be chaired by a Hillman associate director and be composed of Hillman members. The review committees will be made up of both former awardees and ad hoc experts, chosen based on the applications received. Applications will be assigned to two reviewers having the appropriate expertise. Reviewers will score applications according to the criteria listed above, using the NIH scale of 1‐9 (best to worst). Final funding decisions will be made by Hillman senior leadership based on the scientific review and programmatic needs. A brief summary statement will be provided to the applicant.


Projects must be completed within the designated period of the grant proposal, which is one year for all awards. Clinical applicants or others with time-consuming protocol requirements may apply for a change in start/end dates. No-cost extensions must be formally requested.

Funds may be requested for any of the standard NIH budget categories and for purposes deemed necessary for the successful execution of the proposed project. However, restrictions and additional scrutiny apply:

  1. Personnel: Requests for faculty salary support are not allowed. The intent of this award is to fund the generation of preliminary data for a grant submission, and as such, the budget for personnel should be kept to a minimum.
  2. Travel: Requests for travel support are not permitted.
  3. Equipment: Requests for equipment should be limited to funds directly related to project performance. For example, a laptop for a research assistant to use in the clinic to collect data would be appropriate.

Unused funds will revert to the supporting funding source. All proposed expenses must conform to the general policies of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Awardees of projects that use a Hillman shared resource, e.g., the Biostatistics Facility, Tissue and Research Pathology Services (TARPS), etc., are encouraged to consult with the shared resource director prior to submission and include a letter of support from him/her.


  • Prior to funding, all awarded projects that involve animals or human subjects must be reviewed and approved in accordance with Hillman’s general assurances and HIPAA. Reviews and approvals may be “Just in Time” and are not required for registration/application. Projects involving human subjects must be submitted to an Institutional Review Board (IRB). All investigators and all persons named on the budget page must have certification of training in the protection of human subjects. Appropriate animal forms must also be filed and approved.
  • A summary progress report must be submitted after the end date of support or earlier if warranted. The summary progress report should give a financial accounting of funds used for the project, and reference all research products planned or generated, including abstracts submitted/published, peer-reviewed articles submitted/published, grant applications submitted/funded, and potential/actual intellectual property (reports of invention, etc.).
  • PIs will provide updates on publications, grants, and patents after the end of funding when asked.
  • Where applicable, progress reports should identify the Hillman catchment area counties and any minority or medically underserved populations that are involved or affected.
  • All manuscripts, abstracts, posters, and presentations should acknowledge support from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Funds, e.g., “This project was supported in part by award number P30CA047904 from the National Cancer Institute.” If a Hillman CCSG-supported shared resource provided data, please also include the following statement: “This project used the Hillman Cancer Center [insert name(s) of shared resource(s)] that [is/are] supported in part by award P30CA047904.” Funded investigators that fail to adhere to this policy will be barred from future submissions to the Developmental Pilot Program for a period of one year.
  • Awards co-funded by multiple sources will also adhere to reporting and other requirements established by those sources.
  • Faculty awardees may be asked to serve on review committees.

Application Format (in this order)

All proposals must be submitted as a single PDF and include the following components in the order indicated:

  1. Title Page that includes the following items. Please note that submitting online does not automatically create this title page.
    1. Title of the proposal
    2. PI’s name, research program, whether faculty (indicate rank) or fellow (include mentor’s name), and contact information
    3. Science track (basic, clinical/translational, or population science)
    4. Total budget requested
    5. If the proposal is in response to the targeted RFA
  2. Scientific Abstract: The abstract summary of the proposal. For use by review committee members and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center (250-word maximum).
  3. Lay Abstract: A brief summary of the proposal, written for the general public (100-word maximum).
  4. Budget: Use PHS 398 Form Page https://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/phs398/398_fp4.docx.
  5. Budget Justification: The Budget Justification should include sufficient detail for reviewers to assess whether appropriate resources have been requested (no page limit).
  6. Introduction: If your proposal was not funded, you may submit the same idea again, one time. For re-submission, include a ½ page response to the previous critique.
  7. Research Plan (3-page limit, including tables and figures):
    1. Specific Aims
    2. Significance (including cancer relevance, and if applicable, how the pilot addresses DEI or the catchment area)
    3. Innovation
    4. Approach
    5. Proposal Timeline and Plan for Future Grant Submission
  1. NIH Biosketches for the key members of the research team.
  2. Human and/or Animal Subjects: Although Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval is not required prior to submission, briefly describe any human and/or animal subject issues (no page limit):
    1. If human subjects will be involved in the research, provide a description of their involvement and characteristics, specific risks to subjects who participate, and protection against those risks. Describe the sources of materials that will be obtained from human subjects as part of their study participation. Provide assurance that the project will be reviewed and approved by the Hillman IRB and comply with HIPAA. 
    2. If vertebrate animals are to be used, describe the proposed use of the animals in the work outlined and procedures for ensuring that discomfort, distress, pain and injury will be limited. Projects involving animal subjects must be reviewed and approved by IACUC.

Other Requirements/Notes:

  • References do not count towards the three-page limit
  • Use single spacing, font no smaller than Arial 11, and half-inch margins
  • Letters of support may be beyond the three-page limit
  • All of the above must be included in the single PDF proposal
  • No appendices


Applications are due by 5 p.m. ET on November 1, 2021.

PLEASE NOTE – To be eligible for review, each applicant must adhere to the following:

  • All applicants must submit their proposals through the online form on this site. The online form must be completed in one session; it does not save partially entered information and you cannot return to it at a later date to finish your submission.
  • Submission must be completed by 5:00 p.m. ET on the deadline date.
  • Investigators must submit (upload) their entire application as a single PDF. 
  • The file name must include the PI’s last name.
  • Applications missing one or more of the required components (uploaded single PDF with the PI’s name in the file name) will be considered incomplete and will not be reviewed.
  • Extensions of the deadline will not be granted. Supplementary or additional materials will not be accepted after the submission deadline.

Questions? Email Moira Hitchens, PhD: hitchensm2@upmc.edu.

Targeted Research Areas (RFA Information)

Pre-Clinical Imaging

Pre-clinical imaging provides non-invasive techniques for the visualization of in vivo animal models, allowing researchers to conduct longitudinal studies to monitor physiological changes (i.e., inflammation, tumor microenvironment, etc.) disease progression and/or treatment response, identify sites of disease, evaluate pharmacokinetic data for drug development, and detect damage to tissues. The In Vivo Imaging Facility (IVIF) provides a variety of pre-clinical imaging modalities including positron emission tomography (PET), optical imaging (bioluminescence and fluorescence), high resolution computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). HCC seeks to fund two to four pilots of $12,500 – $25,000 each that feature pre-clinical imaging in the research strategy. New IVIF users will have priority. Note that investigators with current pilot funding are eligible to apply for these pilots.

To apply for this targeted award, follow the guidelines listed for the Hillman Developmental Pilot Program with the following additions:

  1. Interested investigators must first contact Dr. Jessie Nedrow (nedrowj@upmc.edu) by October 7. 
  2. A minimum of 50% of the budget must be for IVIF services. 
  3. State on the title page of the proposal that the project will use pre-clinical in vivo imaging. 

Questions? Please contact Moira Hitchens (hitchensm2@upmc.edu) or Jessie Nedrow (nedrowj@upmc.edu) with any questions regarding pilot funding for pre-clinical imaging.

Cancer Survivorship

The Hillman Developmental Pilot Program seeks to encourage new basic, clinical/translational, and population science research that addresses cancer survivorship during the lifespan of the survivor. Consistent with the NCI definition, cancer survivorship begins with the cancer diagnosis and extends through the balance of the survivor’s life. Cancer survivorship research focuses on characterization of disease and treatment-related symptoms in cancer survivors and the biological and/or behavioral mechanisms underlying those symptoms. Research in this area also focuses on developing and testing personalized interventions to prevent or reduce symptoms and to improve outcomes in cancer survivors including, but not limited to, quality of life, functional ability, and adherence to cancer therapy. Research addressing disparities in the survivorship experience and in survivorship care is particularly welcome.

To apply for this targeted award, follow the guidelines listed for the Hillman Developmental Pilot Program with the following addition:

  1. State on the title page of the proposal that the project addresses cancer survivorship.

Questions? Please contact Dr. Moira Hitchens (hitchensm2@upmc.edu) with any questions regarding pilot funding for cancer survivorship.

Click here to access the online application form