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2016 Winter Inside NIMH

Inside NIMH Winter Edition

I. Message from the NIMH Director

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 our website 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.


Bruce Cuthbert, PhD
Acting Director, National Institute of Mental Health

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As we settle into the New Year, we have an opportunity to reflect on some recent changes at NIMH. As you are likely aware, after 13 years of service as the Director of NIMH, Thomas Insel, MD, bid us farewell and moved on to Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences). During this transition period as we search for the new NIMH Director, I am honored to serve as the Acting Director of NIMH; in this role, I hope to strengthen the Institute while maintaining the normal execution of operations to advance the NIMH mission. In addition to these and other changes at NIMH, there is a lot going on at NIH, including a new children’s research initiative, an increase in support for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and the release of the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan.

What’s New & What’s News

  • NIMH Director Search: A national search for the new NIMH Director is underway. Walter Koroshetz, MD, Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Nora Volkow, MD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are co-chairing the search committee. Applications are due by February 8, 2016.
  • The National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup on The Opportunities and Challenges of Developing Information Technologies on Behavioral and Social Science Clinical Research: The NAMHC, which advises NIMH, has formed a new workgroup focused on Behavioral and Social Science Research at NIMH. On November 24, 2015, the workgroup held an initial planning meeting. The workgroup has been charged with addressing how new mHealth technologies can be used to help achieve more objective and precise diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, and how such technologies can be used to help predict and prevent mental illnesses and improve the quality of mental health practice. In pursing this charge, the workgroup will approach the question of how we can develop and use technology-driven information science at several levels of analysis, including the individual (cognition and behavior), social, and cultural contexts.
  • Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report on Evidence-Based Standards for Psychosocial Interventions for Mental Disorders: The IOM convened a workgroup in early 2014 to address issues about the evaluation of psychosocial interventions, including such topics as training providers in evidence-based therapies and determining the fidelity with which treatments are delivered. The workgroup’s report, released in July, 2015, detailed reasons for the gap between known effective treatments compared to current typical practice, and outlined a framework for providing standards for psychosocial interventions. A follow-up conference was held in October, 2015 to discuss the implementation of the workgroup’s recommendations. NIMH has already implemented research projects to study efficient strategies for employing evidence-based therapies and effective processes for improving quality, and a potential initiative focused on Pragmatic Strategies for Assessing Psychotherapy Quality in Practice was presented at the May 29, 2015 meeting of the NAMHC.
  • The New Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC): The IACC, newly re-formed under the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support (CARES) Act, met in November, 2015 and again in January, 2016 with the Acting Director of NIMH, Dr. Bruce Cuthbert, serving as Chair of the IACC. The IACC is an advisory committee that offers guidance to the HHS Secretary and works across federal agencies while coordinating with the autism community. Topics discussed at the meetings included developing an updated IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, and preparing an annual summary of advances in ASD research for 2014 and 2015. Under the new CARES Act, the committee will expand its focus on services and supports, while continuing its work on advancing autism research.
  • BRAIN Initiative:
    • Funding Opportunities: In the recent omnibus spending bill passed on December 18, 2015, Congress continued to strongly support the BRAIN Initiative. The bill provides $150 million for the BRAIN Initiative, an increase of $85 million above fiscal year (FY) 2015, to be pooled from various NIH Institutes and Centers. This news followed the October 1, 2015, NIH announcement of the second wave of grants to support the goals of the BRAIN Initiative, bringing the NIH investment to $85 million in fiscal year (FY) 2015. The latest round of projects will focus on visualizing the brain in action.
    • BRAIN Initiative Investigator’s Meeting: The second annual meeting to discuss the BRAIN Initiative was held in December, 2015. Breakout sessions focused on cell type histology and morphology, next generation human non-invasive neuroimaging, and neural recording and modulation technologies. NIMH grantee Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD (Stanford University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute), gave the plenary address Optical Tools for Discovery in Neuroscience.
  • Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program: NIH has launched a new seven-year initiative, called ECHO, to better understand the effects of environmental exposures on child health and development. The goals of ECHO are consistent with those of the former National Children’s Study, and will capitalize on existing participant populations. ECHO is designed to support approaches that can evolve with the science and take advantage of technological advances and the growing number of clinical research networks. Neurodevelopment is one of the key pediatric outcomes with high public health impact that these studies will examine. The NIH awarded $144 million in new grants in FY 2015 to support ECHO and the development of new tools to enhance measurement of environmental exposures. For more information on ECHO funding opportunity announcements, see the recently hosted NIH webinars.
  • NIH-Wide Strategic Plan: On December 16, 2015, NIH released the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2016–2020: Turning Discovery Into Health. As requested by Congress, the plan outlines a vision for biomedical research to capitalize on new opportunities for scientific exploration and to address new challenges for human health. Developed with input from hundreds of stakeholders and scientific advisers, and in collaboration with leadership and staff of NIH’s Institutes, Centers, and Offices (ICOs), the plan is designed to complement the strategic plan of each ICO, which are aligned with their congressionally mandated missions. NIMH published our Strategic Plan for Research in March, 2015.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Budget: NIMH awarded 507 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in 2015, and achieved an overall success rate of 20 percent (defined as number of RPG applications funded divided by the number of applications received; see Figures 1 and 2 (note that in Figure 2, the total number of funded grants do not add up to 507, as not all grants are percentiled)). NIMH awarded grants to 83 new Principal Investigators, and achieved a success rate of 23 percent for Early Stage Investigators.

* Almost all applications scoring better than the 10th percentile are funded. Some of the applications through the 10th percentile were not funded due to the funding of previously submitted versions.

  • Figure 3 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.
  • FY 2016 Budget: On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed an omnibus appropriation (Public Law 114-113) that funds NIH, along with most of the Federal government, through September 30, 2016. The amount provided to NIMH, $1.548 billion, represents an $85.4 million (5.8 percent) increase over the NIMH FY 2015 appropriation. Congress provided increases for all NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) and additional increases to various ICs for specific programs, such as the BRAIN Initiative, the Precision Medicine Initiative, and for research on Alzheimer’s disease. NIMH’s FY 2016 appropriation includes an increase in funding intended for the President’s BRAIN Initiative.

Prior to the passing of the appropriation, NIH had been operating under a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs). During these CR periods, NIMH issued non-competing research grant awards at a level below that indicated on the most recent Notices of Award (generally up to 90 percent of the previously committed level). As in previous years, NIMH will adjust these awards to restore them to their committed levels.

NIMH Staff News

  • There have been several recent changes to NIMH Leadership.
    • Shelli Avenevoli, PhD, is serving as NIMH Acting Deputy Director. Dr. Avenevoli joined NIMH in 2001 and has been heavily involved with a number of key NIMH efforts, among them the revision of NIMH’s Strategic Plan, re-defining the Institute’s approach to supporting research in neurodevelopment and bipolar disorder, and serving as a liaison to other agencies for special initiatives.
    • Sarah H. Lisanby, MD, arrived in October and has assumed her role as the Director of the Division of Translational Research (DTR). Dr. Lisanby joined us from Duke University School of Medicine, where she served as Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and holds the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry endowed chair.
    • Sarah Morris, PhD, is serving as the Director of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Unit. Dr. Morris has been active in shaping the RDoC framework while working as a Program Officer for Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders in DTR.
    • Joel Sherrill, PhD, is the new Deputy Director of the Division of Services and Intervention Research. Dr. Sherrill has contributed greatly to NIMH as a Program Official through his efforts at identifying research priorities for federal funding, designing funding initiatives, supporting the implementation of research projects, and nurturing the careers of junior and mid-career scientists.
    • Tracy Waldeck, PhD, is serving as the Acting Deputy Director of the Division of Extramural Activities. Dr. Waldeck has accumulated a breadth of knowledge on extramural grants policies and procedures and our use of IT systems to support their management, so as to be a resource not only to NIMH staff and Council members, but to other ICs as well.
    • We also say farewell to Kevin Quinn, PhD, Acting Director of the Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications, as he will be retiring from NIMH in March. Dr. Quinn has been a valued member of the NIMH team since 1997, when he became the Chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Program in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science. In the years following, Kevin assumed a number of key leadership positions, including Chief of the Behavioral Science and Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch and Study Director for the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). Dr. Quinn is also a founding member of the RDoC workgroup.
  • The NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs is excited to welcome Mark Histed, PhD, as a new tenure-track investigator. Dr. Histed joined the IRP as Chief of the Unit on Neural Computation and Behavior in January 2016. His laboratory will study cortical circuits and activity patterns linked to behavioral decision making.