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2015 Spring Inside NIMH

Inside NIMH Spring Edition

Welcome to the latest edition of Inside NIMH. We publish Inside NIMH in conjunction with each meeting of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, which advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Director of NIMH on all policies and activities relating to the conduct and support of mental health research, research training, and other programs of the Institute. In addition, check out the NIMH Director's Blog for regular updates on timely topics at NIMH. I hope you find this information interesting and helpful. Please let us know if you have questions or comments on this edition.


Tom Insel, MD
Director, National Institute of Mental Health

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I. Message from the NIMH Director

It is Spring, the bird is on the wing, and the 2015 NIMH Strategic Plan for Research has arrived! With new plans, new initiatives, and new leadership, we’re kicking off a springtime rejuvenation at NIMH for the years to come.

NIMH Strategic Plan for Research

  • 2015 NIMH Strategic Plan for Research: Against a backdrop of rapid scientific advances and dramatic changes in the landscape of mental health care, NIMH has issued a new Strategic Plan for Research. The new plan updates the Strategic Objectives of its 2008 predecessor with the aim of balancing the need for long-term investments in basic research with the urgent mental health needs of today.  The plan provides a framework to accelerate the pace of scientific progress by generating research that will have the greatest public health impact and continue to fuel the transformation of mental health care. The four Objectives of the Plan describe the continuum of mental health research:
    1. Define the mechanisms of complex behaviors.
    2. Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene.
    3. Strive for prevention and cures.
    4. Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research.
    These four Objectives form a broad roadmap for NIMH’s research priorities over the next five years. NIMH has highlighted several cross-cutting themes in the Strategic Plan which investigators are strongly encouraged to consider in proposed studies, including the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Project, the BRAIN Initiative, and the Institute’s experimental medicine approach, in which ‘targets’ refer to hypothesized mechanisms of action and their ability to modify disease, behavior, or functional outcomes, and in which the underlying assumption is that modification of the target will result in improvement of symptoms, behavior, or functional outcomes. Other cross-cutting themes include the role of the environment, preemption through early intervention, the consideration of sex differences as biological variables, mental health disparities, and the importance of maintaining a global perspective on mental health care.  The NIMH Strategic Plan for Research is available in print and can also be read online or downloaded as a PDF.
  • Strategic Research Priorities:  NIMH recognizes that soliciting applications most germane to achieving Objectives of the Strategic Plan for Research necessitates more detailed guidance on specifics encompassed by the Strategies within the Plan.  The information within the Strategic Research Priorities pages will be updated periodically to represent the Institute’s most current interests, and we encourage you to check the site for the most recent insights on research needs.  We invite the scientific community to apply for funding in these priority areas whether using parent announcements for investigator-initiated applications, Program Announcements, and Requests for Applications. By using the Plan to guide funding decisions, we hope to accelerate the translation of research findings into public health impact.

Budget Overview

  • FY 2015 Budget: NIMH anticipates awarding over 500 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2015, with an estimated success rate of 18% (see Figure 1). FY 2015 will be the fourth consecutive year that NIMH has exceeded 500 competing RPGs. Overall, as in past years, NIMH expects to support at least 75% of the applications up to the 20th percentile. Moreover, the Institute will give special consideration to applications from early stage investigators. With the exception of specific programmatic adjustments, NIMH will fully fund modular and non-modular grant awards. Future year commitments for modular grant awards are expected to remain consistent with the FY 2015 awarded amount. For competing non-modular awards, future-year commitments will be reduced, on average, 10% from the recommended funding levels and will not include inflationary increases. For non-competing continuation awards, grants will be made at the committed level.

  • Outlook for FY 2016: In February 2015, the President submitted his FY 2016 budget request to Congress. The request for NIH is $31.08 billion, an increase of $1 billion over the FY 2015 operating level, including an increase of $70M for the BRAIN initiative. The request for NIMH is $1.5 billion, an increase of $56 million over the FY 2015 operating budget. The NIMH budget request increases BRAIN Initiative funding by $23 million, for a total of $48.2 million, and includes $5 million in new funding for the Precision Medicine Initiative.
  • Figure 2 below shows the NIMH budget in appropriated (current) versus constant (FY 1998) dollars. Constant dollars are “inflation adjusted” for variations in the purchasing power of the dollar over time. Dollar amounts are adjusted based on the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI). The annual change in BRDPI indicates how much the NIH budget must change to maintain purchasing power similar to FY 1998.
  • Both House and Senate Appropriations Sub-Committees have held NIH hearings with several NIH Institute and Center Directors. It is unclear when the Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill, which contains the NIH appropriation, will be introduced. Spending level determined by sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011 could be instituted absent any congressional action otherwise. In addition to the regular appropriation process, budget discussions this year have included the 21st Century Cures legislation. The current draft of this legislation includes $10 billion mandatory spending for NIH, over five years, for an Innovation Fund, above and beyond the budget appropriated. As of this date, the specifics of this Fund are being debated.

Program Updates

  • BRAIN Initiative: On September 30, 2014, NIH announced its first wave of grants in support of the BRAIN Initiative. This initial round of awards—to more than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries—totaled $46 million to support the goal of developing tools for a deeper understanding of the brain that will ultimately catalyze new treatments and cures for devastating brain disorders. A second round of funding announcments, including several announcements led by NIMH (see the New Announcements about Funding Opportunities section below), were released in November and December 2014. For more information about NIMH-led BRAIN Initiative announcements, please contact
  • EPINET: The new NIMH Strategic Plan for Research drives the Institute in several new directions – one of the most audacious is a focus on preventing psychosis. Last year, NIMH launched a series of studies to define preventive interventions to reduce psychosis. The next step will be creating a network of centers for the prodrome and first episode care called the Early Psychosis Intervention Network (EPINET) to reduce the number of first psychotic episodes from 100,000 to below 50,000 each year. By 2016, NIMH plans to launch this new effort to align science and clinical practice with a goal of preventing psychosis in high-risk individuals and ensuring recovery for those who have had a first episode of psychosis.
  • NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience: The NIH Blueprint is a collaboration among 15 participating NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices that support research on the nervous system. While the BRAIN Initiative is concerned with the development and application of innovative technologies for interrogating circuit activity in the nervous system, the NIH Blueprint focuses more broadly on all aspects of research on the nervous system that have the potential to transform our basic understanding of the brain and our approaches to treating brain disorders. In April 2015, the Blueprint released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from the scientific community on how the Blueprint might best do so in the future (NOT-NS-15-020). The RFI closed on May 25, 2015. Responses will inform strategic planning activites at the upcoming July 2015 Blueprint Retreat.
  • Follow that Cell!: NIH has selected 16 finalists for Phase 1 of its Follow that Cell Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to stimulate the development of new tools and methods that will enable researchers to predict the behavior and function of a single cell in complex tissue over time.  The Follow that Cell Challenge is part of the America COMPETES initiative and was issued by NIMH and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, on behalf of the NIH Common Fund’s Single Cell Analysis Program. During Phase 1 of the challenge, innovators across a wide range of fields were encouraged to propose theoretical solutions for tracking and analyzing the behavior and function of individual cells over a period of minutes, hours, and even days. Of the 16 finalists, five prize winners were selected to receive monetary prizes totaling $88,000 and will now advance—along with the additional 11 finalists—to the challenge’s second phase, which requires innovators to generate proof-of-concept data.
  • GTEx Data: Researchers funded by the NIH Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) program have created a new and highly anticipated data resource, the GTEx Portal, to support studies of how differences in an individual’s genetic make-up affect gene activity and contribute to disease. The new resource will enable scientists to examine the underlying genomics of many different types of human tissues and cells concurrently, and to conduct genome-wide association studies of the roles that genomic variants play in disease. GTEx investigators reported initial findings from a two-year pilot study in several papers appearing online May 7, 2015, in Science and other journals. NIH launched the GTEx program in 2010 to create a reference database and tissue bank for scientists to study how genomic variants may affect gene activity and disease susceptibility. Investigators are collecting more than 30 tissue types from autopsy or organ donations and tissue transplant programs, and analyzing both DNA and RNA from samples. The project will eventually include tissue samples from about 900 deceased donors, including nearly 400 brain donors. The project is supported by the NIH Common Fund and administered by the National Human Genome Research Institute, NIMH, and the National Cancer Institute. In addition to the GTEx program, NIMH also co-leads the Common Fund’s Healthcare System Research Collaboratory program, with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
  • NIMH Outreach Partnership Program: NIMH has selected 48 new Partners for its Outreach Partnership Program. Outreach Partners have been awarded in 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to disseminate the latest research findings and science-based information from NIMH and NIMH-funded researchers about the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders, and to educate the public about the importance of research and the opportunities to participate in studies being conducted at the NIH campus, and by NIMH-funded researchers in their States.

NIMH Staff News

  • Director, Division of Translational Research: NIMH is pleased to announce that Sarah Hollingsworth Lisanby, MD will be joining NIMH as Director of the Division of Translational Research this fall. Dr. Lisanby will also continue her research part-time, developing new tools for neuromodulation in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs (IRP). She comes to NIMH from Duke University, where she is currently serving as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and holds the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry endowed chair. Dr. Lisanby is a leader in the area of neuromodulatory interventions for treating major depression, serving as a principal investigator on studies that range from basic research through clinical trials. Dr. Lisanby’s prodigious research life has been matched by extensive service to NIMH and beyond. She has been a member of the NIMH Board of Scientific Counselors since 2013, and has chaired or been a member of a variety of NIH Study Sections since 2004. Dr. Lisanby also has a strong record of mentoring, personally nurturing over 50 individuals in the past 10 years. We welcome her to NIMH.
  • Changes in the NIMH IRP: NIMH has had several additional recent depatures and arrivals in the IRP. De-Maw Chuang, PhD retired in the fall of 2014, after more than 40 years in the IRP. Dr. Chuang conducted pioneering work on neuroprotective properties of lithium and valproate in preclinical models, publishing more than 250 peer-reviewed articles which have been cited over 15,000 times. Jay Giedd, MD departed NIMH after 23 years in the IRP, to become the Chair of the Child and Adult Psychiatry Division at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Giedd is highly regarded for his longitudinal studies of brain development, with a major focus on the adolescent brain. Yogita Chudasama, PhD will be joining the IRP faculty in fall 2015 to continue her own research program and oversee a behavioral core facility. Dr. Chudasama is currently a tenured faculty member in psychology at McGill University, where she studies how fronto-temporal circuitry affects normal cognitive and emotional behavior. She is also an expert in rodent and marmoset behavior. Thomas Lehner, PhD, the Director of the NIMH Office for Genomics Research Coordination, has been appointed as the Senior Genomics Advisor in the Office of the Scientific Director, NIMH IRP. Dr. Lehner will serve as a liaison between the NIMH IRP and other intramural programs at NIH, in order to leverage resources and efforts across ICs where possible. In addition, he will also serve as a bridge to the extramural efforts at NIMH with regard to genomics research.
  • Jane Steinberg, PhD retired from her position as Director of the NIMH Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) in April 2015, after nearly 35 years of federal service. Dr. Steinberg earned her doctorate in Social and Educational Psychology from Syracuse University. She completed her postdoctoral work at the Ohio State University Hospital, where she evaluated programs and provided interdisciplinary consultation on social education issues with multiply-disabled children. Dr. Steinberg began her career at the NIMH in 1980, serving in many roles, including Executive Secretary, Acting Director of the Clinical Division, and Director of DEA, a position she held for the last 15 years. Dr. Steinberg served a key leadership role in many NIH-level activities, including the establishment of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences as well as several large-scale enhancements to the NIH peer review process. Dr. Steinberg was frequently called upon to serve on Committees for the hiring of senior NIH executives, and also served as the Executive Secretary to the National Advisory Mental Health Council. We wish her all the best and thank her for her service to NIMH and NIH.