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2020 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 (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

As we transition into 2020, we reflect on our progress and our successes in 2019. This edition of Inside NIMH will focus on recent efforts to advance NIMH research priorities, key developments across the NIH, and our vision for the future.

News to Know

  • NIMH Strategic Planning Efforts: NIMH uses its Strategic Plan for Research to guide the Institute towards achieving its mission. To keep pace with scientific progress, the plan is updated every five years. NIMH leadership and staff drafted the 2020 NIMH Strategic Plan for Research and incorporated feedback heard from members of the NAMHC at the September meeting. NIMH published a Request for Information (RFI) via the NIH Guide and Federal Register to solicit public feedback on the updated Plan. In response to stakeholders’ requests for more time, NIMH extended the deadline for input to the RFI to January 15, 2020 and plans to share findings from the analysis of RFI responses with NAMHC members and the public at the May Council meeting. The Institute plans to publish the new NIMH Strategic Plan for Research in 2020.
  • Outreach Spotlight: To raise awareness about mental health observances throughout the Fall, NIMH highlighted several education and outreach resources in Discover NIMH, its recently launched e-newsletter. For example, NIMH created new social media shareables for stakeholders to use during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, including an infographic on the warning signs of suicide. In addition, NIMH created a new fact sheet with tips for talking with a health care provider about mental health and released a revised fact sheet with five things to know about stress. Sign up for Discover NIMH and find more shareables, videos, exhibit information, and other outreach resources on NIMH’s Education and Awareness portal.
  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: The Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support (CARES) Act of 2019 was signed into law on September 30, 2019. The new law reauthorizes several federal autism services and research programs, and highlights issues such as the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum across the lifespan. The new law also reauthorizes the IACC. The IACC is seeking nominations of individuals to serve as non-federal public members on this committee. The call for nominations is open until February 21, 2020.
  • NIMH Considerations Regarding the Use of Animal Neurobehavioral Approaches in Basic and Pre-clinical Studies: NIMH released a Notice outlining guidelines and priorities for potential applicants considering neurobehavioral approaches in animal research relevant to mental illnesses. Basic and pre-clinical research in animals is critical for understanding fundamental neurobiological mechanisms that drive complex behaviors, and for facilitating NIMH efforts to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. When determining funding priorities for basic and pre-clinical neuroscience research, NIMH weighs how well the proposed model system will enable important questions to be answered. Additionally, Dr. Gordon has highlighted the role model systems can play in research and treatment of mental illnesses and some important considerations for researchers in two recent Director’s Messages.

Updates and Announcements from NIH

  • NIH-Wide Initiatives
    • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative: On October 21, 2019, the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0 released their report, From Cells to Circuits, Toward Cures. This report outlines the progress made by NIH BRAIN Initiative investment to date and offers some suggestions regarding NIH activities in the BRAIN Initiative. On the same day, the Neuroethics Subgroup of the ACD BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0 released a report on The BRAIN Initiative and Neuroethics: Enabling and Enhancing Neuroscience Advances for Society. This report details a feasible course for integrating neuroscience and neuroethics during the remaining years of the BRAIN Initiative, and beyond.
    • HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-TermSM) Initiative: On September 26, 2019, NIH announced that it will fund $945 million in research to tackle the national opioid crisis through the NIH HEAL Initiative , including four NIMH-funded projects funded under the “HEAL Initiative: Effectiveness Trials to Optimize, Implement, Scale, and Sustain the Collaborative Care Model for Individuals with Opioid Use Disorders and Mental Health Conditions ” funding opportunity announcement. Collaborative care models utilize treatment teams, often including a primary care provider, a care manager, and a behavioral health specialty consultant. These grants will address gaps in our knowledge and complement studies conducted within opioid use disorder (OUD) specialty care clinics by testing integrated treatment models appropriate for diverse primary care settings, where many patients with OUDs and mental disorders already seek care, and that may be more available in areas where behavioral health specialty providers are scarce.
    • Research Opportunities to Develop Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Screening Tools: On November 6, 2019, NIMH announced it will fund seven studies that seek to translate findings related to early-emerging signs of ASD into practical screening tools that can be implemented in the general population and in community settings. These studies are supported by NIMH and other NIH institutes and centers, including 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 on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
    • Expanding NIH’s Definition of “Socio-Economic Disadvantaged” to be More Inclusive and Diversify the Workforce: NIH recognizes the need to encourage and enable careers of biomedical scientists with disadvantaged backgrounds. In an updated Notice on workforce diversity, NIH has revised its definition of “socio-economic disadvantaged” to better capture the backgrounds of the scientific workforce and recruit new members. This Guide Notice now supersedes existing diversity language in existing funding opportunities.
  • NIH Leadership News
    • Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D. retired on December 31, 2019. Dr. Somerman served as the Director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) for nine years and is a leader in defining factors that modulate formation of dental, oral, and craniofacial tissues. Dr. Somerman will continue as the Chief of the Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
    • NIH welcomes back Norman “Ned” Sharpless, M.D., one of the nation’s leading oncologists, to resume the leadership of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Sharpless temporarily left NCI in 2019 to serve as the Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the President’s request.
    • NIH will welcome Joshua Denny, M.D., M.S., as Chief Executive Officer of the All of Us Research Program. As CEO, Dr. Denny will oversee NIH’s efforts to build one of the largest and most comprehensive precision medicine research platforms in the world, in partnership with a diverse network of awardees and research participants. Dr. Denny comes to NIH from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he is a Professor in the Departments of Biomedical Informatics and Medicine.
    • John J. Ngai, Ph.D. has been selected as the new Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative . As Director, Dr. Ngai plans to continue the momentum of the initiative, which is revolutionizing the understanding of the human brain in ways that could transform clinical care for people suffering from neurological and psychiatric disorders. Dr. Ngai comes to NIH from the University of California, Berkeley, where he is the Coates Family Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget:  NIMH awarded 653 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2019 and achieved an overall success rate of approximately 25 percent (defined as number of RPG applications funded divided by the number of applications received; see Figure 1). In accordance with Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) efforts, NIMH awarded grants to 93 unique early stage investigators (ESIs) and 399 unique at-risk investigators. Cures Awards are funded by appropriations made available through the 21st Century Cures Act.

    Figure 1
    NIMH Applications, Awards, and Success Rates for Research Project Grants
    Fiscal Year Applications Direct Awards Cures Awards Success Rate
    2014 2830 548 0 19
    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

    Figure 2 shows the number of competing R01 and equivalent applications that were awarded or not awarded across the full percentile scoring range in FY 2019. Data are presented using a method developed by the NIH Office of Extramural Research which shows success by percentile rank. The number of percentiled competing awards was 320 for $183M.

    Figure 2
    NIMH FY 2019 Competing R01 and Equivalent Applications Awarded and Not-Awarded by Percentile Score Awarded Not Awarded
    1 11 0
    2 15 0
    3 10 0
    4 20 0
    5 15 0
    6 14 0
    7 14 0
    8 15 0
    9 24 1
    10 18 0
    11 11 1
    12 14 2
    13 14 3
    14 12 2
    15 10 6
    16 14 0
    17 13 3
    18 10 3
    19 7 2
    20 9 4
    21 8 7
    22 6 6
    23 6 8
    24 6 7
    25 11 7
    26 5 11
    27 3 5
    28 0 6
    29 0 11
    30 0 10
    31 2 10
    32 0 7
    33 1 11
    34 1 14
    35 0 12
    36 0 6
    37 0 12
    38 1 8
    39 0 8
    40 0 17
    41 0 18
    42 0 17
    43 0 10
    44 0 18
    45 0 6
    46 0 10
    47 0 16
    48 0 11
    49 0 10
    50 0 12
    51 0 15
    52 0 11
    53 0 3
    54 0 4
    55 0 2
    56 0 2

    Figure 3 shows the NIMH budget in appropriated (current) versus constant (FY 2000) dollars (excludes 21st Century Cures funding). 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 3
    NIMH Budget in Appropriated Dollars and Constant 2000 Dollars
    Appropriation Appropriation in 2000 Dollars
    2000 973.146 973.146
    2001 1106.536 1071.187
    2002 1248.093 1169.722
    2003 1341.014 1213.587
    2004 1381.774 1205.736
    2005 1411.933 1185.502
    2006 1403.515 1126.417
    2007 1404.494 1086.229
    2008 1411.968 1042.812
    2009 1450.491 1041.271
    2010 1489.372 1037.167
    2011 1476.2932 999.521
    2012 1480.265 989.482
    2013 1403.005 920.607
    2014 1446.172 929.416
    2015 1433.603 902.773
    2016 1548.390 954.030
    2017 1604.658 963.759
    2018 1711.434 1000.839
    2019 1814.185 1032.547
    2020 1,972.966 1,094.876

    Appropriation = the amount appropriated not the Actual Obligation.

  • Outlook for FY 2020: On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (Public Law No. 116-94) providing funds through September 30, 2020. The law provides $2.038 billion to NIMH, representing a 9 percent increase over the FY 2019 appropriation.

NIMH Staff News and Awards

  • Staff News
    • On January 5, 2020, Thomas Lehner, Ph.D., M.P.H, transitioned from his position as the Director of the NIMH Office of Genomics Research Coordination to join the New York Genome Center, where he will serve as the Scientific Director of Neuropsychiatric Disease Genomics. During his 15 years at NIMH, Dr. Lehner pioneered the NIMH genomics program and oversaw its expansion. Dr. Lehner was central to the development of many of the large Team Science initiatives such as the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, the Autism Sequencing Consortium, PsychENCODE, and Convergent Neuroscience.
    • On January 28, 2020, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced that Susan Amara, Ph.D., Scientific Director of NIMH Intramural Research Programs (IRP), was elected to serve as President-Elect. Beginning in February 2020, Dr. Amara will serve as President-Elect for one year; she will subsequently serve as AAAS President for one year, then spend one year as Chair of the AAAS Board of Directors. During this appointment, Dr. Amara will continue to serve as Scientific Director of NIMH IRP and Chief of the NIMH Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology, where she studies the structural, functional, and cellular physiology of neurotransmitter transporters.
    • On January 31, 2020, Beverly Pringle, Ph.D., Director of the NIMH Center for Global Mental Health Research, left NIMH to join the Peace Corps. Dr. Pringle joined the NIMH Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health (ORDGMH) in 2013 as Chief of Global Mental Health Research and became the ORDGMH Deputy Director in 2017. During her time at NIMH, she provided scientific and administrative leadership of global mental health research. Many thanks to Pim Brouwers, Ph.D., who has agreed to serve as Acting Director while we conduct a search for a new Director. In addition, Andrea Horvath Marques, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. will lead the Global Mental Health Team through this transition.
    • Nitin Gogtay, M.D., will be transitioning from NIMH to the American Psychiatric Association in March 2020, where he will serve as the Director of Research and Deputy Medical Director. Dr. Gogtay has been NIMH’s Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Office of Clinical Research since 2013. During his time at NIMH, Dr. Gogtay was instrumental in establishing the Office of Clinical Research (OCR), which brought several important extramural operations under a single unified mission. Prior to joining OCR, Dr. Gogtay worked in the NIMH IRP Child Psychiatry Branch for 15 years, where he studied typical and atypical brain development in childhood onset psychoses. Many thanks to Anna Ordóñez, M.D., who has agreed to serve as OCR Acting Director, while NIMH conducts a national search for the new Director.
  • Staff Awards
    • Three Principal Investigators in the NIMH Intramural Research Programs (IRP) were honored with the title of NIH Distinguished Investigator: Daniel Pine, M.D., Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., and Carlos Zarate, Jr., M.D. This title is reserved for NIH’s most preeminent Senior Investigators and requires a special peer review and approval by the NIH Director.
    • Carlos Zarate, Jr., M.D., Chief of the Experimental Therapeutics & Pathophysiology Branch in the NIMH IRP, received the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) Dolores Shockley Minority Mentorship Award. Dr. Zarate’s current research focus is on developing novel medications for treatment-resistant depression and bipolar disorder.
    • Armin Raznahan, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of the Developmental Neurogenomics Unit in the NIMH IRP, was awarded the ACNP Eva King Killam Research Award. His research combines neuroimaging, genomic, and bioinformatic techniques to better understand the architecture of human brain development in health, and in neurogenetic disorders that increase risk for psychiatric symptoms.
    • Argyris Stringaris, M.D., Ph.D., FRCPsych, Chief of the Mood, Brain, and Development Unit in the NIMH IRP was awarded tenure. Dr. Stringaris’ research focuses on how mood is generated and maintained and seeks to use this knowledge in order to improve the treatment of young people with depression and related conditions.