The March of Dimes Foundation, a major US non-profit focused on improving child health, has suddenly ended $3 million in research grants, a move that could result in the euthanasia of laboratory animals mid-study.

The foundation sent grant recipients an e-mail on July 24, 2017 stating that their 3-year grants were being terminated retroactively, effective June 30, according to Nature.

"Given our overall resources, March of Dimes has made the difficult decision to reduce grant awards to researchers whose work does not directly impact the prevention and care of premature birth. We have had to carefully evaluate current and prospective research programs to ensure we are targeting very specific programs to meet very specific health objectives around reducing preterm birth rates," the letter stated.

Many of the 37 researchers were only a year into their projects. Several now say they may need to lay off staffers, euthanize lab animals, or even shelve their research projects if they cannot quickly find additional funding.

The revoked research grants included funding for research on Zika, Down syndrome, and other congenital disorders. Five studies focused on understanding and preventing premature birth will keep their funding.

One research study, at Johns Hopkins University, is focused on discovering if the Zika virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect that causes abnormally small heads and stunts brain development.

Andrew Holland, an associate professor of molecular biology and genetics, received only $83,000 of the promised $250,000 grant. He told the Baltimore Sun that this study is now likely done and is trying desperately to save two jobs and to find alternative studies where his laboratory animals can be used.
“The way they’ve approached this has been completely inhumane,” Holland told Science.

The March of Dimes is supported primarily by individual donations. The foundation began was founded by US president Franklin Roosevelt in 1938 to fight polio.

The letter explained that grants were being revoked due to a budget shortfall. According to recent audits by the account firm, KPMG, the organization's expenses exceeded it's income by almost $11 million in 2017.

The March of Dimes Foundation is also behind on paying out grant payments going as far back as 2017.