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2018 Winter Inside NIMH

Inside NIMH Winter 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

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I. NIMH Director’s Updates

As we venture into 2018, it is a good time to reflect on our progress and our successes in 2017, my first full year at NIMH.

The Year in Review at NIMH

  • Reflections and Future Directions: I spent my first year as Director of NIMH listening, learning, and finding my way. I have begun to share where we need to go as an Institute, in the context of a research portfolio that includes short-, medium-, and long-term investments, spanning disease-focused basic science and clinical research. I expressed my vision across an array of important topics including psychosocial interventions, autism spectrum disorder, NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC), and critical next steps for suicide prevention. I also described my recent trip to the emergency room following a Thanksgiving football injury, noting the differences between being ill with a broken bone vs. having a mental illness. To date, I have been sharing this information through my Director’s Messages; I am happy to announce that I am now also sharing NIMH news and science more rapidly and in the moment through my recently launched Twitter account@NIMHDirector.

  • Strategic Research Priorities: To keep pace with the rapidly changing mental health research landscape, NIMH released our second annual update to the NIMH Strategic Research Priorities, which align with the NIMH Strategic Plan for Research. These priorities serve as guidance for NIMH grantees, potential grant applicants, and staff. The Strategic Research Priorities continue to emphasize rigor and reproducibility, and highlight the importance of data sharing and the use of common data elements. The updated priorities also encourage the use of computational approaches to further our understanding of the pathophysiology underlying mental illnesses.

  • Redesigned Statistics Pages: NIMH revamped its statistics webpages, which include data on the prevalence and treatment of mental illnesses in the United States, as well as information about possible consequences of mental illnesses, such as suicide and disability. The redesigned pages feature better organization and navigation, compelling data visualization, downloadable graphics, an interactive user experience, easy sharing, and improved accessibility.

NIH Updates and Announcements

  • Changes to Grant Application Processes: Effective January 25, 2018, all funding opportunity announcements require a new set of applications forms , FORMS-E. Researchers conducting human subjects studies must be careful to assess if the proposed research falls under the 2014 NIH definition of a clinical trial . Clinical trials applications will now be submitted under FOAs that allow for such trials, and the titles of all new FOAs now specify if clinical trial applications are accepted. NIMH accepts clinical trials applications through NIMH clinical trials FOAs, but only accepts “mechanistic” clinical trials under the NIH parent announcement for clinical trials.

  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: The IACC met on October 24, 2017, and announced the release of several publications. The 2016-2017 IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) outlines 23 new objectives for ASD research and services activities, and includes a recommended ASD research budget. The 2014-2015 IACC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Report and corresponding update to the online Autism Research Database now feature data on federal and private autism research funding from 2008 through 2015.

  • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Updates:
  • All of Us Research Program:
  • NIH leadership changes:
    • In August 2017, Josie Briggs, M.D., retired from her position as Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Dr. Briggs held several roles during her 20-year tenure at NIH, including inaugural lead of the Precision Medicine Initiative – now called All of Us. She is now Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.
    • In October 2017, Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., became the 15th Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Sharpless came to NCI from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, where he served as Director of the NCI-Designated Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and as the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research.
    • In November 2017, Roderic I. Pettigrew, Ph.D., M.D., retired from his position as the founding Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), after 15 years of service. Dr. Pettigrew will assume two senior leadership positions at Texas A&M University. The NIBIB Deputy Director, Jill Heemskerk, Ph.D., is serving as Acting Director.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget: NIMH awarded 571 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in 2017, and achieved an overall success rate of approximately 21 percent (defined as number of RPG applications funded divided by the number of applications received; see Figures 1 and 2 below). NIMH awarded grants to 85 new investigators, and achieved a success rate of approximately 27 percent for Early Stage Investigators.

    Figure 2 below shows the number of applications received and the number of awards made for R01 and equivalent competing grants in FY 2017. Data are presented using a new method developed by the NIH Office of Extramural Research showing success rates. The number of percentiled competing awards was 230 for $129M.

    Figure 3 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.

  • Outlook for FY 2018: FY 2018 will begin under a continuing resolution (CR). As in the past, while operating under a CR, non-competing grants would be awarded at levels below committed amounts, likely at 90%. As in previous years when operating under a CR, the commitment level for NIMH grants would be determined after we receive a full-year appropriation for FY 2018.

NIMH Staff News and Awards

  • Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., Director of the NIMH RDoC Unit, received the Society for Psychophysiological Research’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychophysiology, and the American Psychological Association’s Meritorious Service Commendation. Dr. Cuthbert received both awards in recognition of his integrative work on cognitive and affective processes in anxiety and mood disorders, as well as his leadership in advancing novel approaches to study the classification of mental disorders through the NIMH RDoC initiative.

  • Anna Ordonez, M.D., Deputy Director of the NIMH Office of Clinical Research, was elected to the rank of Distinguished Fellow by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Ordonez received this honor in recognition of her high level of training, skill, experience, and excellence in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry.

  • Richard Coppola, Ph.D., retired from his position as the Director of the NIMH Intramural Research Program (IRP) Magnetoencephalography (MEG) Core, after more than four decades of service to NIMH. Dr. Coppola founded the MEG Core, and served as its Director since 2002. NIMH IRP scientist, Allison Nugent, Ph.D., is serving as Acting Director.

  • We are sad to announce the passing of two outstanding colleagues:
    • Dennis L. Murphy, M.D., passed away on September 23, 2017. Dr. Murphy was the former Chief of the Laboratory of Clinical Science in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs. He was known for his research on the neurobiology of mood and anxiety disorders using molecular, neurochemical, and genetic techniques. A distinguished researcher and mentor at NIMH for over four decades, Dr. Murphy’s legacy includes over 100 students and fellows, many of whom went on to serve as chairs of psychiatry and basic science departments around the world.
    • S. Charles ("Chuck") Schulz, M.D., passed away on October 1, 2017. Dr. Schulz was the former NIMH Schizophrenia Branch Chief and founding Co-director of the International Congress on Schizophrenia Research. During a career spanning four decades, he made formative contributions and sustained a passion for advancing schizophrenia research. Dr. Schulz was influential in facilitating the careers of many scientists early in their careers.