Welcome to the summer 2008 edition of Inside NIMH. Over the past few months, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has been involved in several noteworthy activities, which I am pleased to share with you in this newsletter.

Thomas R. Insel, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health

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Inside NIMH: Funding News for Current and Future NIMH Awardees

I. Message from the NIMH Director

In this edition of the newsletter, I would like to discuss the new NIMH Strategic Plan and NIH’s efforts to enhance the peer review process at NIH. I will also update you about the status of a recent workgroup report from the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) and the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 budget progress.

In 2007, the Institute launched the process to develop a new Strategic Plan that will serve as a guide to the Institute for advancing mental health science over the next 5 years. The Institute has engaged scientific experts, the NAMHC, advocacy groups, and the public to shape a mental health research agenda that paves the way for prevention of, recovery from, and cures for these debilitating disorders. These efforts have culminated in a Strategic Plan that aligns Institute priorities along four essential areas of research:

  • Promoting discovery in the brain and behavioral sciences to fuel research on the causes of mental disorders
  • Charting mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene
  • Developing new and better interventions for mental disorders that incorporate the diverse needs and circumstances of people with mental illness
  • Strengthening the public health impact of NIMH-supported research.

The new Strategic Plan is designed to harness the vast scientific opportunities of today to achieve better understanding, treatment, and ultimately, prevention of mental illnesses. The Institute will use the Strategic Plan in a number of ways to achieve this goal. One way will be to translate advances in mental health science to address what NIH calls the “4 P’s” of research:

  • Increasing the capacity to Predict who is at risk for developing disease
  • Developing interventions that Preempt (or interrupt) the disease process
  • Using knowledge about individual biological, environmental, and social factors for Personalized interventions
  • Ensuring that clinical research involves Participation from the diversity of people and settings involved in health care.

The Plan will also be our guide for funding research. As the Institute enters its seventh decade as the nation’s scientific leader in the fight against mental illness, we think about the vast scientific opportunities that were scarcely imagined 10 years ago as well as the challenges that lie ahead. For NIMH to continue fulfilling its vital public health mission, the Institute needs to remain adaptive and explore fully the changing scientific landscape, ensuring that breakthroughs in science become breakthroughs for improving the lives of people with mental disorders. The Plan identifies a number of areas, from fundamental discovery to translational research to implementation science, which will be our goals for future investments. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to access the NIMH Strategic Plan at http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

I also want to update you on NIH’s efforts to examine the peer review process. In February 2008, NIH issued the Final Draft Report (PDF File, 1.63 MB), which describes recommendations for addressing seven major challenges of the NIH peer review system: 1) Reducing administrative burden of applicants, reviewers, and NIH staff; 2) enhancing the rating system; 3) enhancing review and reviewer quality; 4) optimizing support at different career stages; 5) optimizing support for different types and approaches of science; 6) reducing stress on the support system of science; and 7) meeting the need for continuous review of peer review.

The NIH Director subsequently established a group that outlined the draft implementation plans for each recommended action as guided by two fundamental principles. First, while improving the system, ensure that any changes to the peer review system bring significant value and reflect a favorable balance between costs and benefits. Secondly, continue to maximize the freedom of scientists to explore. Based on feedback from both internal and external NIH communities on the draft implementation plan, four core priorities emerged:

  • Engage the Best Reviewers
    • Increase flexibility of service
    • Formally acknowledge reviewer efforts
    • Alleviate pressures related to time and effort
    • Enhance and standardize training.
  • Improve Quality and Transparency of Reviews
    • Shorten and redesign applications, through appropriate means, to highlight impact and allow alignment of the application, review, and summary statement with the five explicit review criteria
    • Modify the rating system.
  • Provide for Balanced and Fair Reviews Across Scientific Fields and Career Stages
    • Support early stage investigators and investigators new to NIH at targeted levels
    • Emphasize retrospective accomplishments of experienced investigators.
  • Develop a Permanent Process for Continuous Review of Peer Review.

NIH is now in the final stages of communicating the results of the Enhancing Peer Review effort (see Calendar of Events). An intensive, 12-18 month planning process will detail the specifics for implementing the various actions outlined. I encourage you to share with the NIH Director any comments you may have on the Enhancing Peer Review effort by submitting your comments to Zerhounipeerreview@mail.nih.gov.

As a final note, I would like to introduce the recently released NAMHC workgroup report and to update you on the FY 2009 budget process.

The NAMHC Neurodevelopment Workgroup was asked to advise on addressing the gap in knowledge between behavioral development and brain development. Their recently released report, “Transformative Neurodevelopmental Research in Mental Illness” (PDF File, 599 KB), provides recommendations to enable translational developmental neuroscience to flourish by creating and addressing the complexities of normative and atypical neurodevelopment.

The FY 2009 NIMH President’s Budget request (PDF File, 103 KB), which became public on February 4, 2008, would provide a total NIH program level of $29,465 million, which is equal to the FY 2008 enacted appropriation. The FY 2009 request of $1,407 million for NIMH is an increase of $1,365 thousand or +0.1% over the FY 2008 Omnibus. The NIH hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education is currently scheduled for July 16, 2008. While FY 2008 was expected to be an especially difficult year for NIMH funding, we are currently projecting the ability to fund over 570 new Competing Research Project Grants (RPGs) and over 75 new R01 investigators. These numbers, while below FY 2007 funding levels (620 new Competing RPGs and 98 new investigators), have risen from earlier estimates. We expect to end the year within a few percent of FY 2007 levels, with continued priority funding (i.e., funding beyond the 20th percentile) to new investigators and to innovative science. We plan to continue our funding policy of supporting at least 75 percent of grants below the 20th percentile, with priority based on merit (score), relevance, and programmatic balance.

II. New Announcements about Funding Opportunities

Each week, NIH electronically distributes the NIH GUIDE, a listing of all NIH Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), which include requests for applications (RFAs), program announcements (PAs), and important notices for the scientific community. Below are samples of FOAs in which NIMH participates. The Research Funding page on the NIMH Web site has links to listings of all NIMH FOAs and other resources.

Note: You can subscribe to the NIMH Funding Opportunities ListServ to receive the latest information about RFAs and other research funding opportunities from NIMH, as well as administrative updates and changes to grant policies and procedures. You can also subscribe to a separate ListServ to receive weekly e-mails of the NIH GUIDE.

NIMH-Administered Requests for Applications

Use of Pooled State Administrative Data for Policy Relevant Mental Health Services Research

This FOA, issued by NIMH, solicits grant applications from state agencies and partnered researchers to study the impact of changes in mental health policies (e.g., implementing parity, implementing mental health programs for returning combat veterans), changes in delivery systems (e.g., introducing quality improvement initiatives, implementing managed behavioral health care in public systems), financial policy changes (e.g., implementing patient cost sharing, implementing prior authorization policies), or other new or changed policies on the cost, quality of care, and outcomes for persons with mental disorders. It is intended that proposed studies will use existing administrative data to generate new information that can assist state mental health policy-making. Applicants are encouraged to offer access to de-identified state data for use by other research project teams, while gaining access to data supplied by other states in order to understand the impact of policies across states.

Release Date: May 9, 2008; Expiration Date: August 20, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R01 announcement (RFA-MH-09-050)

Network(s) for Developing PTSD Risk Assessment Tools

The sponsoring agencies invite research grant applications for teams of investigators to conduct exploratory studies combining, weighting, and sequencing measures of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) risk with the goal of differentiating trauma survivors who will recover naturally from those who will develop enduring symptoms and PTSD. Applicants are encouraged to propose developing and testing risk assessment tools using existing data (past trials and epidemiological studies) and/or in the context on-going PTSD studies. The expected outcomes of such teams will be preliminary data on risk assessment tools that are sensitive to and balance statistical and clinical significance for future prediction and pre-emption studies and research to develop clinical decision tools.

Release Date: April 7, 2008; Expiration Date: September 1, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R21 announcement (RFA-MH-09-060)

Basic and Translational Research Opportunities in the Social Neuroscience of Mental Health

This FOA, issued by NIMH, solicits research grant applications that stimulate basic and translational research into the neurobiological substrates of social behavior with the ultimate goal that findings derived from such investigations will provide greater insight into mechanisms of psychiatric disorders with known deficits in social behavior. NIMH invites applications that examine the neurobiological bases of social behavior, including its genetic, developmental, cognitive and affective components. NIMH is interested in these research topics at both the basic and translational levels of analysis. It is the intent of NIMH that findings derived from these approaches will ultimately aid in our understanding of the etiology or pathogenesis of mental disorders, or will add to the knowledge base necessary for developing appropriate biomarkers or identifying key endophenotypes that will further advance our understanding of the causes and treatments of mental disorders across the developmental lifespan. This FOA succeeds and replaces PAR-06-389 on the same topic area.

Release Date: August 8, 2007; Expiration Date: October 21, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R01 announcement (RFA-MH-08-070)

Prevention of Trauma Related Adjustment and Mental Disorders in High-Risk Occupations

NIMH invites applications that will contribute directly to the goal of establishing empirically-demonstrated methods of preventing the development of trauma-related disorders among high trauma exposure occupational groups, for example, civilian employees and military personnel who regularly encounter traumatic situations. From a scientific perspective, occupations that involve exposure to trauma at higher than average frequency present unique opportunities for testing the effectiveness of preventive interventions designed to minimize posttraumatic adjustment disorders. From a public health and national security perspective, attending to the mental and behavioral health of individuals and groups who respond to emergencies, provide disaster relief, defend national interests, participate in peacekeeping missions, and maintain a civil society can be viewed as strengthening our national infrastructure. This RFA is being issued under the R01 and R34 mechanisms.

Release Date: April 12, 2007; Expiration Date: November 22, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R01 announcement (RFA-MH-08-010)
  • NIH GUIDE version of the R34 announcement (RFA-MH-08-011)

NIMH-Collaborative Requests for Applications

Methods for Prevention Packages (MP3)

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and NIMH invite applications for multidisciplinary research programs that (1) devise optimal HIV prevention packages (combination interventions) for specific populations, (2) design clinical studies to rigorously examine the safety and efficacy of these “packages” in the target population, and (3) perform pilot studies to demonstrate that the proposed prevention package is acceptable to the target population and the study design is appropriate and feasible.

Release Date: April 24, 2008; Expiration Date: August 26, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R01 announcement (RFA-AI-08-044)

Microbicide Innovation Program (MIP IV)

This FOA, The Microbicide Innovation Program (MIP IV), issued by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIMH, and supported by the Office of Research in Women’s Health in the NIH Office of the Director, solicits Research Project Grant (R21/R33) applications in the field of topical microbicides to advance: (1) Development of new microbicide approaches and additional rational targets through preclinical and basic research; (2) discovery and characterization of microbicides (singly or in combinations) directed against HIV or STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) that are linked to HIV acquisition; (3) emerging technologies or models that contribute to the development of new and/or more efficient ways of assessing microbicide safety, efficacy and acceptability; and, (4) design of complex prevention strategies that incorporate vaginal, rectal, and/or penile applied microbicides in the context of mucosally active vaccines.

Release Date: April 16, 2008; Expiration Date: July 26, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R21/R33 announcement (RFA-AI-08-016)

Gender, Youth and HIV Risk

This FOA, issued by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and NIMH, solicits Exploratory/Developmental (R21) applications from institutions/organizations that propose to study the developmental and environmental processes contributing to HIV risk in individuals under the age of 24. It calls for studies focusing on HIV risk in specific settings around the globe where HIV prevalence is high or increasing and relevant environmental contexts are changing rapidly.

Release Date: March 31, 2008; Expiration Date: July 30, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R21 announcement (RFA-HD-08-017)

Integrated Preclinical/Clinical Program for HIV Topical Microbicides (IPCP-HTM)

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and NIMH invite applications from single institutions and consortia of institutions to participate in this FOA for the advancement of novel single and combination safe, effective and acceptable microbicides and microbicide strategies to prevent sexual transmission of HIV. The types of microbicide research that will be supported include basic microbicide science, focused preclinical development and exploratory small scale clinical trials (pre-Phase I clinical trials). The IPCP-HTM is specifically designed to serve as a platform for microbicide development through support for integrated and iterative research projects and activities including but not limited to: microbicide-relevant basic science; drug discovery-driven development of microbicides; preclinical virologic and toxicologic assessment of lead candidates; development and validation of Good Laboratory Practice (GLP)-compliant analytical assays; and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-manufacturing activities in support of pre-Phase I clinical trials. Applications may include any combination of these activities.

Release Date: March 4, 2008; Expiration Date: July 18, 2008

  • NIH GUIDE version of the U19 announcement (RFA-AI-08-006)

NIMH Program Announcements

Since the beginning of April 2008, NIMH has published several program announcements highlighting areas of research interest, which span topics in genetics, basic neuroscience, behavioral science, translational research, interventions, and mental health services research. The NIMH Web site has a full listing of these program announcements.

NIH Roadmap Initiatives

The NIH Roadmap is a set of trans-disciplinary initiatives that seeks to transform all of biomedical research and accelerate its discoveries. All NIH Institutes, including NIMH, participate in the Roadmap, and funding opportunities are open to all investigators. Currently, workgroups co-chaired by the Directors of NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) and populated by nominees from interested Institutes are developing initiatives for “Roadmap 1.5.” A full summary of Roadmap activities can be found at the NIH Roadmap site and within the funding opportunities section.

NIH Neuroscience Blueprint Initiatives

The Neuroscience Blueprint is a framework to enhance cooperative activities among 15 NIH Institutes and Centers that support research on the nervous system. The Blueprint aims to develop research tools, resources, and training and to make them available to the neuroscience community. The Blueprint will focus on neural development in 2008 and neural plasticity in 2009, with plans to continue the Blueprint initiative beyond FY 2009.

Neuroplasticity Initiative: An RFA, Probes and Instrumentation for Monitoring and Manipulating Nervous System Plasticity, focuses on the development of tools or techniques that will significantly advance the current state of the art in neuroplasticity research but will not be restricted to a particular type of technology. NIH has also issued a parallel SBIR program announcement.

III. Future Research Directions

National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Concept Clearances for Potential New Research Initiatives

This listing of potential future initiatives is meant to provide the earliest possible alert to the field of our research interests and of potential upcoming announcements to solicit that research. While NIMH plans to proceed with these initiatives, their publication and timing are not certain and depend on sufficient funding. The titles and brief descriptions are consistent with the information available at the time of concept clearance. The resultant FOAs may differ from the concepts in the final wording of their titles or other aspects. To send questions about a specific concept, follow the “Submit Comments” link at the bottom of the description.

Related Information

Upcoming NIMH Sponsored Meeting

NIMH is sponsoring the 14th NIMH Biennial Research Conference on the Economics of Mental Health: Toward Building a High Performance Mental Health System on September 25-26, 2008 in Washington, DC. The biennial economics conferences are an integral part of the dissemination and research portfolio development activities of the Division of Services and Intervention Research of NIMH. These scientific conferences are convened exclusively for presentation and discussion of original, rigorous and innovative technical research papers in mental health economics.

Upcoming NIMH Co-Sponsored Meeting

The NIMH Annual International Research Conference on the Role of Families in Preventing and Adapting to HIV/AIDS is a three day conference that brings academic researchers together with HIV program implementers to discuss the most effective approaches to working with families that are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. This meeting will be held on October 6-8, 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Summary of NIMH-Sponsored Scientific Meeting

Research workshops and scientific meetings are some of the best forums in which to identify research gaps and to stimulate new areas of mental health research. Below is a brief description of a meeting that NIMH sponsored recently. You should send questions about a specific meeting to the program contact listed in the description.

IV. Update on Electronic Submission of Grant Applications

On May 23, 2008, NIH released an NIH GUIDE notice about the electronic submission process. The notice announces plans to convert the current electronic submissions to the Adobe-based forms format starting in December 2008, with some initial tests on a few RFA receipts in October. Following that conversion, the plan is to have the Career Development mechanisms (Ks) convert for the February 12, 2009 receipt date, the Fellowship mechanism (Fs) for the April 8, 2009 receipt date, and Training and Development mechanisms (T&Ds) for the September 25, 2009 receipt dates. Applicants can plan for all receipt dates through December to use PureEdge forms. NIH will publish a detailed plan in the fall.

V. Recent NIMH News Releases

Please help us spread the word about the results of NIMH funding by acknowledging our support of your research, for example, in journal articles (citing your NIMH award by number when possible) and other communications. NIMH has two primary methods of getting the word out:

  • Press releases — promoted through distribution to major media; posted on the NIMH Web site
  • Science updates — highlight recently published findings; also posted on the NIMH Web site

These are all also distributed to the public through the NIMH ListServ, which now has more than 20,000 subscribers.

If you have a manuscript accepted for publication that describes an especially significant finding, please contact your NIMH program director to discuss the possibility of a news release or other forms of dissemination.