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More on the NIH Review Process

The mission of the NIH is to improve the health of the nation by attempting to understand the processes underlying human health and by acquiring new knowledge to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat disease and disability. Some of the ways that NIMH/NIH accomplishes its mission are by supporting research conducted within the Institute’s Division of Intramural Research Programs and outside of government through the award and management of research grants. Most of these grants go to scientists in universities, medical schools, hospitals, small businesses, and research institutions. NIH supports training for promising new researchers; identifies research findings that can be applied to the care of patients, and helps to transfer such advances to the health care system; and promotes effective ways to communicate biomedical information to scientists, health practitioners, and the public. The great majority of grants are given to American scientists, but NIH policy allows thesupport of highly meritorious science anywhere in the world.


In the NIH peer review system, the scientific assessment of applications is differentiated from policy decisions about areas to be supported and the level of resources to be allocated. This dual review system described below keeps these functions separate and aims to reach a more objective evaluation than would result from a single level of review. This system aims to provide the appropriate NIH officials with the best available advice about scientific and technical merit, as well as societal values and needs.

Dual Level Review: The grant peer review system used by the NIH, often referred to as the "dual review system", is based on two sequential levels of review for each application. The review process involves the assessment of applications by NIH staff and outside scientific and public experts. Descriptions of the two levels of review are given below.

a. First level of review -- Scientific Review Groups

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) receives applications submitted to NIH and assigns them to scientific review groups (SRGs) at CSR or individual Institutes or Centers (ICs). NIMH maintains its own review branch that convenes SRGs to evaluate some specialized types of applications. Generally, the NIMH Review Branch is responsible for the following types of applications and reviews:

  • Applications for mental health clinical intervention research and services research;
  • Applications in response to RFAs (requests for applications), for institutional training, and for center mechanisms;
  • Other applications, based on topic may also be assigned to review committees convened on an ad-hoc basis.

The initial, or first level review involves panels of experts (often including public reviewers), established according to scientific disciplines or medical specialty areas, and whose primary function is to evaluate the scientific merit of grant applications.

Composition of Study Sections: Each Scientific Review Group (SRG) consists of experts, who are primarily non-government scientists drawn from academic and research organizations. These consultants are selected as representatives of the scientific disciplines or medical and health care specialty areas in order to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of grant applications.

Each SRG is under the direction of a Scientific Review Officer (SRO), who is a full-time NIH employee and generally serves as the Designated Federal Official (DFO) or federal presence at government-sponsored meetings. The SRO's role is to ensure that government regulations and policies regarding scientific review and the functioning of Federal Advisory Committees are properly administered.

b. Second level of review -- The National Advisory Mental Health Council

The second level of review is performed by The National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC), also referred to as "Council", composed of both scientific and public representatives who are chosen for their expertise, interest, or activity in matters related to mental health and illness. Council recommendations are based not only on considerations of scientific merit as judged by an SRG, but also on the relevance of a proposed project to the Institute's programs and priorities. Research and many other types of grant applications cannot be paid until Council approves their payment. In most cases, Council concurs with the SRG recommendations. Usually, an application must be recommended by both an SRG and Council to be funded. Policy issues, including but not limited to those regarding peer review, are also discussed in Council meetings.