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NIMH Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS)


Kathleen Anderson, PhD
Division of Translational Research


The goal of the NIMH Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) program is to support the research and research career development of outstanding, exceptionally productive scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers and who plan to make a long term career commitment to research in specific mission areas of the NIMH. This award seeks to assist these individuals in launching an innovative clinical, translational, basic or services research program that holds the potential to profoundly transform the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of mental disorders. The NIMH BRAINS program will focus on the research priorities and gap areas identified in the NIMH Strategic Plan and the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project.


The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for recovery, prevention, and cure. An essential element of this mission is the support and career promotion of the future generation of exceptionally talented and creative new scientists who will transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. This initiative aims to create a unique opportunity for innovative early stage investigators to advance NIMH research with applications that demonstrate a high level of risk, ambitious research plans, and a lower emphasis on preliminary data than is required for a traditional NIH award.

In order to identify outstanding basic, translational and clinical investigators and assist them in launching innovative research programs at an early stage in their career, NIMH established the BRAINS program in 2009. This program seeks R01 research projects from Early Stage Investigators (ESI) in independent faculty positions but who have not yet received their first R01 research grant. The program emphasizes both the potential of the early career investigator to be a future leader in the field and the innovation, creativity, and potential impact of the project for transforming our understanding of the etiology, pathophysiology, trajectory, and/or treatment of mental disorders.

Since 2009, 56 BRAINS awards have been made.  Ongoing evaluation of the program tracks the subsequent success of the awardees in receiving NIH grants, their productivity, and career progression.  On both quantitative and qualitative measures, the available evidence indicates that the awardees receive this R01 earlier than applicants through the NIH parent R01 FOA, generate large numbers of publications in high impact journals, achieve tenure earlier than expected, and a significant proportion go on to receive a subsequent NIH grant (over 75% of awardees in the first three years of the program have received a subsequent NIH grant).  In addition, the program supports a larger percentage of physician scientists (MD, MD/PhDs) and women than the NIH average.

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