COVID-19 Show message

Skip to content

2018 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 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.


Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health

If you wish to unsubscribe, subscribe, or change your e-mail address, please contact the NIMH Webmaster or visit the Inside NIMH subscription page.

I. NIMH Director’s Updates

News from NIMH is abundant this spring season. The National Advisory Mental Health Council Genomics Workgroup reviewed the field to guide the path forward, NIMH took a fresh look at portfolio balance, NIH initiatives continued to grow, HHS strategic planning efforts came to fruition, and so much more.

National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) Workgroup Updates

  • Report of the NAMHC Workgroup on Genomics: The NAMHC Genomics workgroup, charged with advising the NAMHC on future directions in psychiatric genetics and functional genomics, published a comprehensive report based on workgroup meetings. Principal recommendations to address the complexity inherent in genomic psychiatry include: applying rigorous statistical methods; focusing on unbiased genetic association studies; examining all types of genetic variation; expanding efforts beyond the DSM; including genetic and phenotypic variation across diverse human populations; developing and sharing research resources; and, requiring robust, genome-wide significance in selecting genes and gene variations for further study. Guidance from the genomics workgroup report should be followed when submitting applications.
  • Report of the NAMHC Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) Changes to the Matrix (CMAT) Workgroup: The NAMHC RDoC CMAT workgroup is charged with developing a standardized format for submitting suggested revisions to the RDoC matrix, evaluating proposed changes, and making final recommendations to the NAMHC. The workgroup proposed reorganization and other changes to the Positive Valence Domain to reduce redundancy and to align with recent findings related to reinforcement learning, reward prediction errors, and response to reward. On May 17, 2018 the workgroup presented a report on the proposed changes to the NAMHC.

Portfolios and Public Feedback

  • NIMH Portfolio Balance: Quality Science Comes First: NIMH performed a portfolio analysis to examine the balance in funding across fundamental basic research, disease-related basic research, and therapeutics development and services research. Overall, the findings suggest three takeaway messages: 1) regardless of how the portfolio is analyzed, the NIMH balance has shifted toward basic research; 2) changing scientific priorities likely played a role in this shift; and, 3) there are signs of a reversal showing an increase in funding for therapeutics development and services research. Moving forward, NIMH will continue to prioritize excellent science across all areas of the portfolio.
  • NIH Portfolio Analyses:
    • How Many Researchers, Revisited: A Look at Cumulative Investigator Funding Rates: NIH conducted a portfolio analysis of cumulative investigator funding rates, and found that NIH remains in a state of hyper-competition, but possibly less so than in the past few years. In addition, the number of unique applicants appears to be stabilizing after many years of uninterrupted growth, possibly reflecting a decline in the numbers of postdoctoral fellows in biomedical science. This analysis is a follow up to a previous portfolio analysis which demonstrated that an increasing number of researchers were vying for limited dollars.
    • Impact of Teams Receiving NIH Funding: NIH also undertook a portfolio analysis on the impact of teams receiving NIH funding. Team size was measured by counting the number of co-authors on published papers. Results showed that the number of authors on publications resulting from NIH support have steadily increased over time. Further, they found a positive association between number of authors and citation influence, consistent with the growing importance of team science.
  • NIH Request for Public Feedback on Administrative Burden in Research with Laboratory Animals: NIH is requesting public feedback on approaches to reduce administrative burden associated with the use of laboratory animals in biomedical research. Together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, NIH is looking for constructive and thoughtful feedback on this topic from individuals, research institutions, professional societies, animal advocacy organizations, and other interested parties. Input will be accepted through June 12, 2018.

NIH Programs and Initiatives

  • Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study: To date, more than 7,500 children have been recruited for the ABCD Study. On February 13, 2018, NIH released the first dataset from 4,500 participants ages 9 to 10. Data include basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, structural and functional neuroimaging data, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses. The data are available through the NIMH Data Archive, which can be accessed by qualified researchers.
  • All of Us Research Program: On May 6, 2018, NIH officially launched the All of Us Research Program after completing its beta testing phase. All of Us will include one million people aged 18 and older to participate for at least a decade. Participants will answer survey questions and share their electronic health records. Some participants may be asked to provide biological samples and share data from wearable devices. All of Us aims to inform precision medicine by helping researchers understand how an individual’s environment, lifestyle, and genetics influence their health.
  • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative:
    • On April 9-11 2018, the NIH BRAIN Initiative convened the 4th annual BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting. Attendees included BRAIN Initiative awardees, NIH staff and leadership, leadership from the contributing federal agencies, representatives and investigators from participating non-federal organizations, as well as members of the media, the public, and Congress. Participants discussed scientific developments and potential new directions, and identified areas for collaboration and research coordination.
    • On April 24, 2018 NIH announced the new Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0. This ACD working group is charged with providing scientific guidance to the ACD on how to best accomplish the ambitious vision of the BRAIN Initiative considering the current state of neuroscience. The working group will review BRAIN Initiative activities and progress, suggest changes to goals outlined in BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, and identify new opportunities for research and technology development.
  • Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative: In April 2018, NIH launched the HEAL Initiative, an aggressive, trans-agency effort to speed scientific solutions to stem the national opioid crisis. The HEAL Initiative will bolster research across NIH to prevent addiction through enhanced pain management and improve treatments for opioid misuse disorder and addiction. This Initiative will build on well-established NIH-funded research that led to medications to treat opioid use disorder and non-drug methods to manage pain.
  • Inflammatory Markers for Early Detection and Subtyping of Neurodegenerative and Mood Disorders: On April 26, 2018, the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH), a public-private partnership to support the mission of NIH, launched a new project to examine brain inflammatory processes in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Under the auspices of the FNIH Biomarkers Consortium, this effort focuses on identifying and developing unique inflammatory biosignatures (combinations of biomarkers) in individuals with AD and MDD. Such biosignatures may inform novel, tailored, therapeutics for neurodegenerative and mood disorders.

HHS Director and Directions

  • New HHS Secretary’s First Official Visit to NIH: Alex Azar, J.D., was sworn in as 21st Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on January 24, 2018. Secretary Azar spoke at an NIH town hall meeting on March 20, 2018 where he discussed the mission of HHS and outlined key priorities such as addressing the opioid crisis. Secretary Azar answered NIH staff questions on several topics, including the role of NIH in disseminating scientific findings, attracting diverse scientific workforce talent from around the world, and balancing domestic and global health research. He thanked NIH for its role in supporting the HHS mission to enhance the health and wellbeing of all individuals. Prior to the town hall meeting, Secretary Azar visited patients in the NIH Clinical Center and met with Dr. Gordon and other NIH Institute Directors.
  • New HHS Strategic Plan: In February 2018, HHS released its Strategic Plan for FY 2018 - FY 2022. The new Strategic Plan outlines five strategic goals: Strategic Goal 1 focuses on the nation’s healthcare system; Strategic Goal 2 is aimed at informed choices for healthier living, prevention of communicable diseases, reducing the impact of mental and substance use disorders, and preparation for public health emergencies; Strategic Goal 3 relates to economic and social factors facing Americans; Strategic Goal 4 is aimed at advancing the impact of science by improving epidemiology and laboratory services, expanding scientific workforce capacity and infrastructure, advancing both basic and applied science, and informing evidence-based healthcare practices; and, Strategic Goal 5 focuses on effective and efficient management and stewardship.

Federal Autism Coordination

  • New National Autism Coordinator: HHS Secretary Alex Azar designated NIMH’s Ann Wagner, Ph.D. as the National Autism Coordinator. Dr. Wagner will play a vital role in ensuring the implementation of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research, services, and support activities across federal agencies. This role will complement the activities of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which includes public and federal members, takes place in a public forum, and focuses on sharing information about ongoing activities and providing advice to the Secretary of HHS on issues related to ASD. Dr. Wagner is currently the Chief of the Biomarker and Intervention Development for Childhood-Onset Mental Disorders Branch in the NIMH Division of Translational Research where she oversees the NIMH Autism Research program. Dr. Wagner also serves as Chair of the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee.
  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: The IACC met on April 19, 2018 and primary discussion topics included employment for people with ASD, as well as research to address aggression and self-injury. The IACC announced the release of the 2017 Summary of Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorder Research, which provides short summaries of the top 20 research articles of the year as selected by the IACC. The IACC also announced plans for a summer 2018 workshop to address improving health outcomes for individuals living with ASD.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget: On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (Public Law No. 115-141) providing funds through September 30, 2018. The amount provided $1.712 billion to NIMH, representing a 6.7 percent increase over the FY 2017 appropriation. NIMH anticipates awarding approximately 600 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2018, with an estimated success rate of 23 percent, as can be seen in Figure 1.

    As in past years, NIMH expects to support at least 75 percent 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 2018 awarded amount. Non-competing continuation awards from FY 2018 will be made at the committed level, and out-year commitments for continuation awards in FY 2019 and beyond will remain unchanged.

    Figure 1.
    NIMH Applications, Awards, and Success Rates for Research Project Grants
    Fiscal Year Applications Awards Success Rate
    2013 2736 512 19
    2014 2830 548 19
    2015 2480 507 20
    2016 2568 587 23
    2017 2735 571 21
    2018 Est. 2558 600 23

    Figure 2 shows the NIMH budget in appropriated (current) versus constant (FY 2000) 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 2000.

    Figure 2.

    NIMH Program Level in Appropriated Dollars and Constant 2000 Dollars
    Appropriation Appropriation in 2000 Dollars
    2000 973.146 973.146
    2001 1106.536 1080.602
    2002 1248.093 1198.937
    2003 1341.014 1265.108
    2004 1381.774 1271.181
    2005 1411.933 1259.530
    2006 1403.515 1213.064
    2007 1404.494 1181.240
    2008 1411.968 1164.030
    2009 1450.491 1186.205
    2010 1489.372 1203.047
    2011 1476.2932 1168.878
    2012 1480.265001 1150.167
    2013 1403.005347 1072.634
    2014 1446.172 1085.715
    2015 1433.603 1063.504
    2016 1548.39 1135.183
    2017 1604.658 1156.094
    2018 1711.775 1210.591
  • Outlook for FY 2019: In February 2018, the President submitted an outline for the FY 2019 budget request to Congress. The request for NIH is $34.8 billion, a decrease of $2.2 billion from the enacted FY 2018 appropriated level including 21st Century Cures funding. The request for NIMH is $1.6 billion, a decrease of $143 million from the FY 2018 appropriated level including 21st Century Cures funding. In April 2018, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing with the NIH Director and several NIH Institute and Center Directors. In May 2018, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies held a hearing to review the budget request for HHS. The House Appropriations Subcommittee members are drafting the FY 2019 Labor/HHS/Education appropriations bill, which contains the NIH appropriation.

NIMH Staff News and Awards

  • NIMH Staff News:

    Megan Kinnane, Ph.D., was selected as Senior Advisor to the Director of NIMH. Dr. Kinnane held the position of Acting Senior Advisor since August 2016, and previously served as a Scientific Review Officer in the NIMH Division of Extramural Activities.

    Karen Berman, M.D., Chief of the Section on Integrative Neuroimaging in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs, was elected to a one-year term as President of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, and will serve a subsequent five-year term as Councilor.

    Richard Nakamura, M.D., retired from his position as Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review. During his 39 years of service to NIH, Dr. Nakamura held numerous leadership positions including NIMH Deputy Director and NIMH Scientific Director. While at NIMH, he earned several leadership awards, including the prestigious Presidential Rank Award.
  • NIMH Staff Awards:

    Andrew Leon Distinguished Career Award, International Society for CNS Clinical Trials and Methodology
    • William Potter, M.D., Ph.D., Office of the Director

    2018 Public Service Award, Society for Prevention Research
    • Jane Pearson, Ph.D., Division of Services and Intervention Research