Inside NIMH: Funding News for Current and Future NIMH Awardees

Funding News for Current and Future NIMH Awardees • July 2009 Edition

Welcome to the summer 2009 edition of Inside NIMH. This has been an extraordinary few months at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) with unprecedented opportunities for funding science. This edition of the newsletter includes a progress report on NIMH´s participation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as well as announcements of several new initiatives. I hope you find this information interesting and helpful. Please let us know if you have questions or comments on this edition.


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

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Message from the NIMH Director

First, I would like to discuss the budget. The fiscal year 2010 NIMH President´s Budget Request (PDF file, 167KB) was submitted to Congress on May 7, 2009. The FY 2010 request of $1,475 million for NIMH is an increase of $24 million or +1.7 percent over the FY 2009 Omnibus. In terms of comparative purchasing power, at the FY 2010 President´s Budget level, NIMH could support an estimated 521 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) compared to an estimated 494 RPGs in FY 2009. The NIH total FY 2010 President´s Budget Request can be found on the NIH Office of Budget Web site. The final budget for NIMH will be determined through the Congressional Appropriations process.

But the big budget news has been our extraordinary opportunity to assist in the Nation´s economic recovery plan. Of the $10.4 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA or the Recovery Act) funds allocated to NIH, NIMH intends to use its portion of these funds ($366M) to jumpstart its Strategic Plan as well as continuing to support AIDS research and new investments in training. All ARRA funds must be obligated by September 30, 2010.

In short, NIMH will use roughly 25 percent of its ARRA funds for grants that have been reviewed previously. To expand our payline, we are providing two years of support for grants that had already scored well in review, but were beyond our ability to pay. Already, more than 50 such grants from FY 2008 and FY 2009 have been paid. R21 grants and other two-year awards have been funded as originally proposed; select R01 grants that could be modified to become two-year projects have also been funded. A few currently funded grants will receive supplements, either via an administrative process or by additional peer review.

Most of the Institute´s ARRA funds will be invested in the Challenge Grants and the Grand Opportunities initiatives to expedite implementation of the NIMH Strategic Plan. In addition, NIMH and four other Institutes will soon be announcing $60M in new funding for autism spectrum disorder research. NIMH funds will also be used for supporting faculty recruitment and for efforts to promote workforce diversity. I encourage you to visit NIMH´s Recovery page to learn more about the stimulus programs funded by the Institute and the opportunities they present. In addition, several other NIH-wide opportunities are described on the NIH Recovery Act Web site.

I want to make sure you know about a few special efforts that will be expedited by ARRA funds.

Our Strategic Plan calls for new ways of classifying mental disorders for research purposes, to help speed efforts in translating recent genomic, neurobiological, and behavioral findings into new knowledge about the underlying causes. In response, NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria initiative (RDoC). The project aims to develop a framework for classifying psychopathology based on the emerging evidence from clinical neuroscience and genomics. The new classification scheme would be used to guide investigators regarding the kinds of patient groups to be incorporated in clinical research studies funded by the Institute. NIMH plans to develop the new classification system in stages for various areas of disorders, with the first part of the framework appearing in 2011. Opportunities for input from the community will include a series of conferences with investigators from various disciplines, meetings with various stakeholders, and web-based sites for ongoing commentary and reporting of new data. An important component of the new system will be decision criteria for the addition of new mechanisms or new assessment approaches based upon empirical results, resulting from periodic formal reviews. ARRA Challenge grants will support research to refine the categories for RDoC.

This month NIMH will announce awards for two groundbreaking initiatives, both funded in part by ARRA funds. The Collaborative Study of Suicidality and Mental Health in the U.S. Army is an unprecedented collaboration with the U.S. Army, for an epidemiologic study of mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors, and suicide deaths in the U.S. Army. The overall objective of this more than $50M project will be to evaluate multiple determinants of suicide-related events, including potentially protective mechanisms, with the intent of informing the development of effective strategies for mitigating suicide risk and enhancing the resilience of Army personnel across all phases of Army service. The second initiative, the Recovery after an Initial Schizophrenic Episode (RAISE) project, also a large-scale research project, will explore whether using early and aggressive treatment, individually targeted and integrating a variety of different therapeutic approaches, will reduce the symptoms and prevent the gradual deterioration of functioning that are characteristic of chronic schizophrenia. The hope is that a coordinated approach tailored to each individual and sustained over time may make lasting differences in the acceptability of treatment and overall function.

Supporting early stage scientists is the goal of another new initiative. The Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) program will support the research and research career development of outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers. This award, modeled on the NIH Pioneer Award and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) ONES Award, is intended to provide sufficient support ($1.625M/5 years direct cost) at an early stage to allow innovation and exploratory research. Each year, the BRAINS program will focus on a specific gap area related to the Institute´s mission. In this inaugural year, neurodevelopment was the focus. The first class of BRAINS awardees will be announced later this summer. The focus for 2010 will be announced in September.

Finally, I would also like to update you on enhancements to the NIH peer review system that are now underway. Among these changes is an updating of the scoring system using a scale of 1-9 (1=exceptional, 9=poor) for both individual criterion scores and overall impact/priority scores. In addition, starting with applications submitted for the January 2010 due date, grant application formats will be restructured to be shorter in length with realigned sections to match the review criteria. NIH has been setting the stage for these changes by informing its staff and the broader scientific research community through communications such as policy notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, briefings to NIH Councils, training for NIH staff, press releases, newsletter articles, and Listserv communications. In addition to providing these resources, the Enhancing Peer Review Web site is regularly updated, and a dedicated e-mail box for questions from the public has been created. An overview of the implementation timetable is also available.

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 is a selection of recently issued 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-Collaborative Requests for Applications

Development and Translation of Medical Technologies that Reduce Health Disparities

This FOA, administered by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), solicits Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant applications from small business concerns (SBCs) that propose to develop and translate medical technologies aimed at reducing disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes. Appropriate medical technologies should be effective, affordable, culturally acceptable, and deliverable to those who need them.

Release Date: December 16, 2008; Expiration Date: January 8, 2010

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R43/R44 announcement (RFA-EB-09-001)

Microbicide Innovation Program (MIP V)

The purpose of MIP is to support novel, high-risk and under-explored strategies in the field of topical microbicides that can prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and NIMH, with support from the NIH Office of Research in Women´s Health (ORWH) solicits R21/R33 applications that introduce novel scientific ideas, model systems, tools, agents, targets, and technologies with the potential to iteratively and substantially advance this field.

Release/Posted Date: April 15, 2009; Expiration Date: July 11, 2009

  • NIH GUIDE version of the R21/R33 announcement (RFA-AI-09-021)

NIH Roadmap Initiatives

The NIH Roadmap is a trans-NIH effort to support innovative science, stimulate interdisciplinary research, and reshape clinical research to accelerate medical discovery and improve public health. Workgroups co-chaired by the Directors of NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) and populated by nominees from various Institutes developed initiatives for "Roadmap 1.5" which can be viewed online. The following are projects co-led by NIMH:

Transformative R01s

The Transformative R01 (T-R01) program was created to support exceptionally innovative, high risk, original and/or unconventional research projects with the potential to profoundly impact a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research. The T-R01 program will pilot novel approaches to peer review and program management to optimize these processes. Pending their approval, 20 applications will be funded under the 50/50 Institute/Roadmap cost-sharing model, and up to three fully funded by an institute. Three additional applications with mental health relevance are being co-funded through the Roadmap Epigenomics Program

The Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Project

GTEx aims to provide the scientific community with a resource for studying human gene expression and regulation and its relationship to genetic variation. The primary goal of this two-year pilot project is testing the feasibility of collecting high-quality RNA and DNA from multiple tissues from approximately 160 densely genotyped donors identified through autopsies conducted close to time of death or organ transplant settings. A small subset of tissues will also be collected from living surgery patients for comparison. If successful, the project will be scaled up to involve around 1,000 donors. As part of this initiative, the RFA "Novel statistical methods for human gene expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) analysis" was issued on April 1, 2009.

Epigenomics of Health and Human Disease

This initiative will support research on fundamental epigenomic changes or mechanisms underlying specific diseases; conditions of development or aging; or responses to exposures to physical, chemical, behavioral, or social factors. This initiative will be funded as a 50/50 cost share between the NIH Roadmap and specific ICs, which will foster multiple IC involvement and facilitate the transition to individual ICs at the end of each funding period. The first set of RFAs will be funded in September 2009, with additional RFAs released annually thereafter.

Molecular Libraries

The RFA, "Solicitation of Assays for High Throughput Screening (HTS) in the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN)," issued in March 2009, offers public sector biomedical researchers access to the large-scale screening capacity necessary to identify small molecules that can be optimized as chemical probes to study the functions of genes, cells, and biochemical pathways. This will lead to new ways to explore the functions of genes and signaling pathways in health and disease.

Rapid Access to Interventional Development (RAID)

The NIH RAID program aims to make available, on a competitive basis, certain critical resources needed for the development of new therapeutic agents. This program uses resources of the National Cancer Institute´s (NCI) Developmental Therapeutics Program and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute´s (NHLBI) Gene Therapy Resource Program. Depending on the stage of the project and the strength of preliminary data, available services include production, bulk supply, manufacturing that complies with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration´s (FDA) Good Manufacturing Practices standards, formulation, development of an assay suitable for pharmacokinetic testing, and animal toxicology. Assistance also will be provided in the regulatory process, through access to independent product development planning expertise. As described in the notice, "NIH-RAID Administrative Supplements for Preclinical Efficacy Testing of Candidate Therapeutics" issued on March 5, 2009, these supplements are intended to facilitate the discovery and development of novel therapeutic agents. RAID will provide funds for the in vitro or in vivo efficacy assessment of promising therapeutic candidates to determine their suitability for further preclinical development.

NIH Neuroscience Blueprint Initiative

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 focused on neural development in 2008 and neural plasticity in 2009, with plans to continue the Blueprint initiative beyond FY 2009.

FY 2010 Initiatives

Grand Challenge: The Human Connectome Project

The goal of the five year Human Connectome Project (HCP) is to develop and share knowledge about the structural and functional connectivity of the human brain. The purpose of the HCP will be achieved through a range of supported research activities.

  • Optimization and combination of existing cutting-edge, non-invasive imaging technologies to acquire structural and functional in vivo data about axonal projections and neural connections
  • Collection of demographic, sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional, and social function data; DNA samples for whole genome association studies; blood samples for generating cell lines; development of models to better understand and use these data, linking connectivity patterns to existing architectonic data
  • Rapid dissemination of data and models to the research community via a user-friendly informatics framework to include tools to query, organize, visualize, and analyze data and use the models
  • Outreach efforts to engage and educate the research community about the imaging tools, data, models, and the informatics platform

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 Co-Sponsored Meetings

"Mental Health Services Research (MHSR) 2009" is the 20th NIMH conference on mental health services research, a series of scientific meetings that brings together leading minds in research and practice to address key scientific challenges in improving access, quality, and outcomes of mental health services and improving the uptake of effective treatment, preventive, and services interventions. The meeting will be held July 20-21, 2009, in Washington, DC.

Summary of NIMH-Sponsored Scientific Meetings

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 meetings that NIMH sponsored recently. You should send questions about a specific meeting to the program contact listed in the description.

Update on Electronic Submission of Grant Applications

On June 12, 2009, NIH released an NIH Guide Notice stating that, starting with the August 8, 2009 submission date, all grant applications for the Individual National Research Service Award (NRSA) Fellowships (F-series) will require electronic submission through to eRA Commons. Paper applications will not be accepted for submissions on or after the August 8 transition. Concurrently, new business processes are being implemented. In summary, the changes include the process for electronically submitting reference letters, requirements for resubmission of an application, and review criteria.

The NIH Office of Extramural Research has also provided updated information concerning what applicants can do if system problems cause them to miss a submission deadline. The recently posted page entitled, "Having Problems with Your Application Submission?" outlines the steps applicants should take when system issues threaten their ability to submit an application to NIH on time.

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

All releases and updates are posted to the Science News section of 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.