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Post by Former NIMH Director Thomas Insel: Focusing Our Funding Opportunity Announcements

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The NIMH Strategic Plan provides a framework to focus and accelerate mental health research so that breakthroughs in science become breakthroughs that can tangibly improve mental healthcare and the lives of people living with and affected by mental illness. For the Institute to pursue most effectively its mission of transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses, we must be able to adapt to and fully explore the constantly changing scientific landscape that comes with the increased pace of research progress.

In order to maintain this flexibility, the Institute announced on November 27, 2009 that we will be streamlining and simplifying our Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs). As of January 8, 2010, the number of FOAs issued by the Institute will be reduced and will be targeted to the objectives articulated in the Strategic Plan. The four objectives of the Plan describe the continuum of mental health research, ranging from understanding basic pathophysiology, to defining the trajectories of mental illness, to developing innovative treatment and prevention strategies, to ensuring public health impact. By focusing the FOAs on each of these four objectives, NIMH hopes to accelerate the translation of research findings into public health impact. However, even though we will be reframing our FOAs, this does not mean that the topic areas of previous announcements are any less important to the Institute. The Strategic Plan reflects the breadth of mental health research, and the new FOAs will be the means for implementing the Plan.

Of special note is the Institute’s continued commitment to supporting research that will address the public health challenge presented by HIV/AIDS. NIMH has a long standing research portfolio focused on developing and disseminating behavioral interventions that prevent HIV/AIDS transmission and reduce HIV-associated morbidity and mortality, as well as clarifying the pathophysiology and alleviating the neuropsychiatric consequences of HIV/AIDS infection. NIMH’s HIV/AIDS program will continue to be guided by the Trans-NIH Plan for HIV-Related Research coordinated by the NIH Office on AIDS Research; new FOAs in HIV/AIDS research will be published in 2010 and will align closely with this Plan.

Finally, I wanted to mention that this change in policy is timed to coincide with NIH-wide efforts to enhance the peer review process . As NIH adopts a new grant application format that includes restructured and shortened forms, NIMH is seeking to better conform to the general use of announcements across the NIH Institutes. By reducing the number of FOAs released by the Institute and focusing these FOAs more clearly on the objectives of our Strategic Plan, NIMH is hoping that our research community will find the application process to be streamlined and straightforward. As always, I urge you to contact us with any questions you might have about these changes in process.