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2020 Autumn Inside NIMH

Inside NIMH Autumn 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 (NAMHC), 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. I hope you find this edition interesting and helpful. I also invite you to check out the NIMH website for regular updates on timely topics, and to follow me on Twitter (@NIMH Director).


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

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I. NIMH Director’s Updates

NIMH continues to monitor and respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, providing guidance to researchers, as well as resources for providers and individuals managing stress and mental illnesses. This edition of Inside NIMH includes updates on NIMH’s response to COVID-19, highlights some of NIMH’s activities during Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (July) and Suicide Prevention Month (September), and notes some key developments across NIH.

News to Know from NIMH

  • NIMH Director’s Statement on Racism: In June, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., denounced the acts of violence perpetrated against African Americans, as well as the ongoing bias and prejudice that fuels these acts. Dr. Gordon echoed Dr. Collins’ sentiments in a statement and joined him in recognizing that NIH has a role to play by ensuring we foster a culture of inclusion, equity, and respect for one another, and by ensuring the research we support is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. In a recent Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon noted how systemic racism leads to not only interpersonal injustices, but also inequalities in access to care, quality of care, and health outcomes. NIMH remains committed to promoting diversity in research (both in those who participate in clinical research and those conducting the research); examining ways to increase access to care to people who need it; sharing resources to raise awareness about minority mental health; and, studying and understanding the impact of bias and prejudice on health outcomes. On August 7, 2020, NIMH released a Notice (NOT-MH-20-073) requesting information on innovative research and research priorities to improve mental health outcomes among racial/ethnic minority and health disparities populations.
  • NIMH’s Response to COVID-19: NIMH continues to monitor and respond to COVID-19. In a recent co-authored Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon collaborated with the leaders of several Institutes at NIH to highlight NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) programs. One of these programs is RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP), which aims to establish a network of community-engaged projects to improve access to and acceptance of COVID-19 testing for underserved and vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. More information, including guidance for researchers, can be found on the NIH COVID-19 webpage.
  • Animal Research Plays a Crucial Role in Modern Neuroscience: Basic research is critical to understanding the genetic, structural, and functional underpinning of mental illnesses. Exploring the function of molecules, cells, circuits, and systems and how they relate to behavior often requires the examination of an intact brain that, for ethical and practical reasons, may be best accomplished with animals. Although NIH supports the development of alternatives to animal models, such as tissue chips, brain organoids, and in silico modelling approaches, these approaches cannot entirely replace animal studies. Research using animals has led to powerful new treatments like Brexanolone, the first FDA-approved treatment specifically for postpartum depression. This treatment may not have emerged without foundational studies of brain neurosteroid signaling in animals. NIMH remains committed to ensuring that animal research is conducted appropriately and in accordance with the highest scientific and ethical principles. Further, NIMH will continue to support researchers who dedicate their lives to understanding the contributors to mental illnesses.
  • Outreach Spotlight: NIMH created and shared several education and outreach resources to support community efforts and raise awareness about mental health observances throughout the summer and into the fall. During Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July, NIMH shared a variety of messages on social media promoting its Tips for Talking with Your Health Care Provider and other mental health information, and posted new Spanish-language shareables to help promote mental health awareness in the Spanish-speaking community. To support back-to-school educational efforts, NIMH created a new fact sheet for teens and young adults about anxiety and stress and shared two educational resources for parents, the Get Excited about the Brain coloring and activity book and the Stress Catcher activity. In recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, NIMH planned a social media livestream event to discuss the latest in suicide prevention research and distributed suicide prevention shareable resources. NIMH also continued expanding its Education and Awareness portal with new digital shareables about bipolar disorder.
  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: The selection process for IACC membership is ongoing. New IACC members and future meeting dates will be publicly announced once the new members have been appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. In June, the IACC released the 2019 Summary of Advances In Autism Spectrum Disorder Research , which provides summaries of 20 studies that represent the top scientific advances in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research in 2019, as selected by the IACC. In August, the IACC released the IACC Strategic Plan 2018-2019 Update , which provides summaries of committee and federal activities in 2018 and 2019 that have contributed to progress toward Strategic Plan goals.
  • Autism Biomarker Consortium for Clinical Trials (ABC-CT) Receives Continued Support: The identification of new biomarkers is an increasingly essential element of predictive and personalized medicine. The ABC-CT has been awarded approximately $40 million over the next five years to continue testing and refining brain-based measures of social communication impairment in ASD in order to better evaluate potential behavioral and drug therapies. James McPartland, Ph.D., (Yale University) serves as principal investigator. McPartland and his team are conducting a multi-site study of preschool (3-5 years) and school aged (6-11 years) children, both with and without ASD, to test the utility of specified biomarkers for future use as stratification measures in clinical trials. Research sites include Yale University, New Haven; Duke University, Durham; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Washington, Seattle; and, Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston. This large consortium effort, supported by a cooperative agreement mechanism, is co-funded by NIMH, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).

Updates and Announcements from NIH

  • NIH-Wide Initiatives
    • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative: On June 1-2, 2020, NIH hosted the 6th Annual BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting. The virtual conference provided an interactive forum for scientific discussions, plenary addresses, and networking opportunities. Meeting content is still freely accessible for those who were unable to attend. With more than 4,700 registrants, the event convened BRAIN Initiative awardees, NIH staff, and leadership from contributing federal agencies; representatives and investigators from non-federal organizations; as well as members of the media, public, and Congress.
    • All of Us Research Program: On June 16, 2020, the All of Us Research Program announced plans to leverage its significant and diverse participant base to seek new insights into COVID-19 through antibody testing, a survey on the impacts of the pandemic, and collection of electronic health record information. All of Us will make data gathered through these activities broadly accessible to approved researchers over time using its data platform, which is now in beta testing. Analyses may help reveal the origins of entry, spread, and impact of COVID-19 in the United States.
    • Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study: The ABCD Study is using existing resources and tools to send monthly questionnaires to a subset of study participants to collect data on experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including viral exposure and outcomes, family situation, schooling, routines, relationships with friends and family, and mental health and substance use among youth and parents. Additionally, the ABCD Study will be releasing new data soon, which will be available upon request to researchers via the NIMH Data Archive. Sharing these data with researchers around the world increases rigor and reproducibility and engages scientists that do not work at the ABCD Study sites, thereby increasing the number of questions we can answer. To date, more than 60 papers have been published using ABCD data from both ABCD and non-ABCD investigators. 
  • NIH Leadership News
    • On June 7, 2020, Richard “Rick” P. Woychik, Ph.D., began his post as Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Before beginning his role as NIEHS Director, Dr. Woychik served as the Acting Director of NIEHS for eight months and Deputy Director of NIEHS for nine years. As NIEHS Director, Dr. Woychik will work closely with the All of Us Research Program to advance NIEHS research on environmental exposures. He will also be responsible for overseeing the National Toxicology Program, a federal inter-agency program that reports directly to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    • On July 1, 2020, NIH announced the selection of Shannon N. Zenk, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., F.A.A.N., as Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). As NINR Director, Dr. Zenk will oversee research aiming to develop personalized strategies to maximize health and well-being at all stages of life and across diverse populations and settings. Dr. Zenk, who will come to NIH in early fall from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), currently serves as a Nursing Collegiate Professor in the Department of Population Health Nursing Science and a fellow at the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy.
    • On July 24, 2020, NIH announced the selection of Michael F. Chiang, M.D., as Director of the National Eye Institute (NEI). Dr. Chiang will oversee NEI-conducted and -supported research on blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight, and the special health problems and requirements of the visually impaired. Dr. Chiang, who will come to NIH in late 2020 from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), currently serves as the Knowles Professor of Ophthalmology and Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology. He is also an Associate Director of the OHSU Casey Eye Institute.
    • On August 6, 2020, NIH announced the selection of Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., D.Sc., as Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). As NIAMS Director, Dr. Criswell will oversee research that informs the fields of rheumatology, muscle biology, orthopedics, bone and mineral metabolism, and dermatology. Dr. Criswell, who will join NIH in early 2021, will come to NIH from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she serves as the Vice Chancellor of Research, a professor of rheumatology in UCSF’s Department of Medicine, and a professor of orofacial sciences in the UCSF School of Dentistry.
    • On August 13, 2020, NIH announced the selection of Rena N. D’Souza, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., as Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). As NIDCR Director, Dr. D’Souza will oversee research in areas of oral cancer, orofacial pain, tooth decay, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, craniofacial development and disorders and the oral complications of systemic diseases. Dr. D’Souza, who will come to NIH later this year, currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and Education for Health Science at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. She also serves as a professor of dentistry, the Ole and Marty Jensen Chair of the School of Dentistry, and professor of neurobiology, anatomy, pathology, and surgery in the School of Medicine and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
    • On September 1, 2020, NIH announced that Hannah A. Valantine, M.D., Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, will retire at the end of September. Dr. Valantine was appointed in 2014 and has led NIH’s efforts to diversify the biomedical research workforce and promote inclusiveness and equity throughout the biomedical research enterprise. Marie A Bernard, M.D., will serve as the Acting Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity while NIH conducts a national search.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Budget: The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (Public Law No. 116-94) provides funds through September 30, 2020. The law provides $2.038 billion to NIMH (amount includes 21st Century Cures funding), representing a nine percent increase over the FY 2019 appropriation. NIMH anticipates awarding approximately 650 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2020, with an estimated success rate of 24 percent, as shown in the figure below. In accordance with NIH Next Generation Research Initiative (NGRI) efforts, NIMH anticipates awarding grants to 91 unique early stage investigators (ESIs) and 299 unique at-risk investigators.

    NIMH Applications, Awards, and Success Rates for Research Project Grants
    Fiscal Year Applications Direct Awards Cures Awards Success Rate
    2015 2480 507 0 20
    2016 2568 587 0 23
    2017 2735 571 0 21
    2018 2701 589 23 23
    2019 2632 638 15 25
    2020 (estimate) 2778 654 19 24
  • Outlook for FY 2021: FY 2021 will most likely begin under a continuing resolution (CR). As in the past, while operating under a CR, non-competing grants will be awarded at levels below the committed amounts, likely at 90 percent. In February 2020, the President submitted the FY 2021 budget request to Congress. The request for NIH is $38 billion, a decrease of $4 billion from the FY 2020 appropriated level including 21st Century Cures funding. The request for NIMH is $1.8 billion, a decrease of $200 million from the FY 2020 appropriated level including 21st Century Cures funding. In July 2020, the House passed H.R. 7617, a six-bill minibus spending package which included the FY 2021 appropriations bills for Labor-HHS-Education, Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. The spending package would provide NIH $42 billion in annual appropriations and $5 billion in emergency appropriations, an increase of $5.5 billion from the FY 2020 enacted level. The bill would provide NIMH $2.1 billion in annual appropriations, an increase of $17 million from the FY 2020 enacted level. In addition, the bill stipulates that no less than $2.5 billion of the emergency appropriation would be transferred to NIH Institutes and Centers in proportion to their share of the total FY 2020 NIH appropriation. The Senate is expected to begin work on the annual appropriations bills in September.

NIMH Staff Updates and Opportunities

  • Staff News
    • Kathy Anderson, Ph.D., has transitioned from NIMH to NEI, where she will serve as the Director of the Division of Extramural Activities. Dr. Anderson has been with NIH for nearly two decades and has worked in many capacities, including Deputy Director in the NIMH Division of Translational Research (DTR) and Acting Director (detail) of the NINR Division of Extramural Science Programs. Mi Hillefors, M.D., Ph.D., will continue to serve as Acting Deputy Director of DTR while we conduct a search for the next Deputy Director.
    • Jean Noronha, Ph.D., Director, NIMH Division of Extramural Activities, will be retiring on October 2, 2020. Dr. Noronha has been with NIH for 37 years; 31 of them with NIMH. Over the years, Dr. Noronha has contributed to NIMH in many ways, first as the Institute’s Acting Review Branch Chief, then as the Chief Extramural Policy and Referral Liaison, then as the Deputy Director of DEA, and most recently, Director of DEA. As the Director of DEA, Dr. Noronha oversaw the management of the National Advisory Mental Health Council, NIMH-led peer review, the grants management branch, and extramural grants policy. We thank her for her years of service and wish her all the best in her retirement.
    • NIMH notes the passing of Fred Goodwin, M.D., former Director of NIMH (1992-1994), on September 10, 2020. Dr. Goodwin’s research helped advance the field of psychiatry, particularly his work with bipolar disorder and lithium. After retiring from government, Dr. Goodwin led the Center on Neuroscience, Medical Progress, and Society at George Washington University Medical Center.
  • Staff Awards
    • Two members of NIMH leadership, Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., NIMH Director, and Linda Brady, Ph.D., Director, NIMH Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science, were awarded the Rona and Ken Purdy Award for Distinguished Service by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This award recognizes the sustained contributions of an individual or organization to raise public awareness, reduce stigma, and advance NAMI’s mission to build better lives for people with mental illness and their families.
    • Leslie G. Ungerleider, Ph.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator, Chief of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, and Chief of the Section on Neurocircuitry in the NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs (IRP), was awarded the Glass Brain Award by the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM). Dr. Ugerleider was recognized for her lifetime achievements in neuroimaging during OHBM’s virtual meeting on June 23-July 3, 2020.
    • Peter Bandettini, Ph.D., Senior Investigator and Chief of the Section on Functional Imaging Methods and Director of the fMRI Core Facility in the NIMH IRP, was awarded the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) Gold Medal Award. The Gold Medal Award, the highest honor bestowed by ISMRM, was awarded to Dr. Bandettini during the ISMRM meeting on August 10, 2020, in recognition of his significant achievement in human neuroimaging methods development.
  • Job Vacancies
    • NIMH is conducting a national search for three positions: Director of the Office of Clinical Research, Director of the Division of Extramural Activities, and Branch Chief for the Genomic Research Branch. For more information about job vacancies, visit the Careers at NIMH webpage.