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2021 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 (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 (@NIMHDirector).


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

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I. NIMH Director’s Updates

NIMH is committed to addressing the many challenges facing our stakeholders. In this edition of Inside NIMH, we highlight a number of NIMH-hosted mental health outreach activities, provide guidance to researchers affected by the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, and describe trans-NIH efforts to address structural racism in biomedical research.

News to Know

  • NIMH’s Response to COVID-19: Over the past year, NIMH researchers have been hard at work examining the effects of COVID-19 on mental health. For example, investigators in the NIMH Intramural Research Programs (IRP) recently identified risk factors that may contribute to elevated anxiety among young adults during stressful life events, such as the pandemic. Additionally, as part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADxSM-UP) program, NIMH-supported researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health adapted their studies to meet the changing needs of their communities by studying ways to expand COVID-19 testing on reservations. More information about the trans-NIH response to COVID-19 can be found on the NIH COVID-19 website.
  • NIMH Launches Inaugural James Jackson Memorial Award: On March 15, 2021, NIMH launched the inaugural James Jackson Memorial Award, named in honor of the late Dr. James Jackson, a renowned social psychologist and member of the NAMHC. Dr. Jackson’s research on race, ethnicity, racism, health, and mental health had far-reaching impacts on the fields of disparities research and minority mental health. The 2021 award recipient is Enrique Neblett, Jr., Ph.D. Dr. Neblett is a Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, with a strong record of research focused on mental health disparities and the impact of racism on health and mental health outcomes among minority (particularly Black) populations. He will present his research at an NIMH virtual webinar in July 2021 during Minority Mental Health Month.
  • NIMH Initiative Expands Access to Resources for Early Psychosis Treatment and Research: The Early Psychosis Intervention Network (EPINET), a broad research initiative aimed at determining how to provide the best treatment for individuals experiencing symptoms of early psychosis, continues to expand its reach by increasing access to resources for researchers, providers, and families. Among other efforts, the initiative is growing its network of research hubs and launched a new web portal. A key feature of the portal is the EPINET Core Assessment Battery, which includes standardized measures and individual items that assess key domains of early psychosis psychopathology, recovery, contextual factors, and treatment. The research portal will be built out over time, as practice-based early psychosis treatment tools are developed.
  • Outreach Spotlight: NIMH launched the new Get Involved section of the NIMH website, which features information about upcoming health observances, a variety of resources to help engage stakeholders, and several ways people can connect with NIMH. NIMH expanded its Education and Awareness portal to offer shareable resources about schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder and new Spanish shareables about autism and eating disorders. NIMH also participated in several virtual exhibits and events to share resources with the public, providers, and other stakeholders, including the annual National Museum of Health and Medicine’s Brain Awareness Day, where NIMH shared new videos created to educate children and teens about stress and the brain. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, NIMH promoted mental health resources, including its new webpage, Caring for Your Mental Health, through its Mental Health Matters social media campaign. Additionally, NIMH promoted newly revised brochures about children and adolescents for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
  • Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: The newly appointed IACC will hold its first meeting in the summer of 2021. The new committee roster will be released ahead of this meeting. Additionally, the NIMH Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) hosted two events during Autism Awareness Month. On April 7, 2021, OARC presented An Afternoon of Comedy with Asperger’s Are Us. Asperger’s Are Us is the first comedy troupe composed entirely of people diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder; ASD). OARC also hosted a virtual event on April 28, 2021, which featured updates from several federal agencies on COVID-19-related activities, programs, and resources for individuals with disabilities and their families.

Updates and Announcements from NIH

  • NIH-Wide Initiatives:
    • Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative®
      • Transforming Non-Invasive Imaging Technologies: The BRAIN Initiative has invested in many cutting-edge technologies for non-invasive brain functional imaging. To evaluate how these tools may generate new directions or opportunities for neuroscience research, NIH hosted a two-part virtual workshop series in February and March 2021. BRAIN Initiative non-invasive imaging technology development awardees, neuroscience researchers, and industry partners came together to discuss how future neuroscience research could benefit from these BRAIN Initiative-funded projects and identify potential pathways for broader dissemination.
      • Transforming Neuroscience Research: Over the next few years, the BRAIN Initiative will launch three large projects to transform neuroscience research. Collectively, these ambitious projects will build a comprehensive atlas of cell types in the human brain; develop and scale up the tools necessary to complete a “wiring diagram” of an entire mammalian brain; and, based on this knowledge, develop molecular and gene-editing strategies to study and treat human neural circuit disorders. The BRAIN Initiative has organized several workshops and released new funding opportunities to inform and support these ambitious projects.
    • Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM (HEAL) Initiative:
      • 2nd Annual HEAL Initiative Investigator Meeting: On May 17-19, 2021, NIH hosted the 2nd Annual HEAL Initiative Investigator Meeting. The goals of the virtual meeting were to spur scientific advancement through collaborations, identify challenges and opportunities in HEAL-funded research, disseminate research breakthroughs, and highlight cutting edge science. Attendees also learned about the new HEAL Data Ecosystem.
      • Creating a Community: HEAL Data Ecosystem Virtual Workshop: On April 20, 2021, the HEAL Initiative hosted a virtual workshop to discuss ongoing efforts to develop the HEAL Data Ecosystem, a cloud-based platform that aims to make it easier for researchers to search for and analyze HEAL results and data. NIH is supporting two expert data resource teams as they build a platform in which data is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR; see HEAL Data Sharing Policy) and consistent with broader efforts outlined in the NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science.
  • HHS and NIH Updates:
    • HHS Leadership News: On March 18, 2021, the Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra as Secretary of HHS. Before joining HHS, Mr. Becerra served as the Attorney General of California and was a member of the House of Representatives for 24 years.
    • Leadership Changes at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS): On April 15, 2021, Christopher P. Austin, M.D., stepped down as NCATS Director after nearly a decade at the helm of the Center and almost 20 years at NIH. Dr. Austin was a member of the team that founded NCATS in 2011. Under his leadership, the Center has made great strides in its ambitious vision to transform translation from an empirical process into a predictive science. Joni L. Rutter, Ph.D., will serve as the Acting Director of NCATS while NIH conducts a national search.
    • Ending Structural Racism in Biomedical Research: On March 1, 2021, NIH launched a trans-NIH effort to end structural racism and racial inequities in biomedical research through a new initiative called UNITE. UNITE aims to establish an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise and reduce barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce. The UNITE initiative has already begun to identify short- and long-term actions that can be taken at NIH. NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., stated his support of this effort and will continue to seek guidance from outside of the agency through the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), informed by the ACD Working Group on Diversity. NIH also recently sought input from the public and stakeholder organizations to strengthen racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in the biomedical research workforce, and advance health disparities and health equity research. On the same day that the UNITE initiative launched, NIMH Director Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., shared his support of this effort and highlighted related changes underway at NIMH.
    • NIH in the Spotlight: On February 11, 2021, President Biden visited the NIH campus and delivered remarks recognizing the hard work and outstanding contributions NIH staff have made to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budget Overview

  • Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Budget: On December 27, 2020, then-President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Public Law No. 116-260) providing funds through September 30, 2021. The law provides $2.11 billion to NIMH (amount includes 21st Century Cures funding), representing a three percent increase over the FY 2020 appropriation. NIMH anticipates awarding more than 550 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2021, with an estimated success rate of 21 percent as shown in Figure 1 below.

    Figure 1
    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 2694 590 17 23
    2021 (estimated) 2795 580 11 21
  • Although NIMH does not have a specific pay line, the Institute expects to support most of the applications that have an impact score up to the 10th percentile, many between the 10th and 20th percentiles, and some beyond the 20th percentile. Funding decisions are based on factors such as the Institute’s Strategic Plan for Research, ensuring representation of diverse perspectives, programmatic portfolio consideration, and availability of funds. Moreover, the Institute will give special consideration to certain applications in accordance with the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI).
  • 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 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 1003.185
    2019 1814.185 1041.004
    2020 1972.966 1104.717
    2021 2053.902 1124.058

    Appropriation = the amount appropriated not the Actual Obligation.

  • Outlook for FY 2022: On April 9, 2021, the White House submitted its initial FY 2022 discretionary budget request to Congress. The “skinny budget” request for NIH is $51 billion, an increase of $9 billion from the FY 2021 enacted level. The request for NIMH will be provided once the White House submits its full budget request. House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearings will be held at a later date.

NIMH Staff News and Awards

  • NIMH Staff News
    • Tracy Waldeck, Ph.D., has been selected as the Director of the NIMH Division of Extramural Activities (DEA). Dr. Waldeck’s career spans more than 20 years and includes experience in a broad range of positions. Most recently, Dr. Waldeck served as the Director of the Office of Extramural Policy and Review at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), where she led large cross-cutting administrative efforts both within NIDA and across the NIH. She has in-depth knowledge, experience, and expertise in the implementation of NIH policy; management of scientific and administrative personnel; and, effective resource management both in the public and private sectors.
    • Becky Wagenaar-Miller, Ph.D., has been selected as the Deputy Director of the NIMH DEA. Over the past year, Dr. Wagenaar-Miller has served as the Acting Deputy Director of DEA and the Acting Executive Secretary to the NAMHC. She provided outstanding leadership, counsel, and stability during this time of transition. In her previous role as Chief of the Extramural Policy Branch in DEA, Dr. Wagenaar-Miller made many important contributions to NIMH policy and procedures and contributed to many trans-NIH activities.
    • Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, Ph.D., was selected as the Deputy Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative. Dr. Beckel-Mitchener previously served as the Director of the NIMH Office for Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity (ODWD), where she worked to reduce disparities, promote mental health equity, increase diverse perspectives in research, and support inclusivity in the research workforce. Lauren D. Hill, Ph.D., has been named Acting Director of ODWD. Dr. Hill joined NIMH in 2007, where she directed the Office of Research Training and Career Development in the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research (DSIR) before joining the staff in ODWD as Acting Deputy Director in 2020. With Dr. Hill’s appointment as Acting Director of ODWD, Crystal L. Barksdale, Ph.D., MPH, was selected as Acting Deputy Director of the Office. Dr. Barksdale joined NIMH as a Health Science Policy Analyst in the Science Policy and Evaluation Branch in the Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications, and, most recently, served as Chief of the Minority Mental Health Program in ODWD.
    • Leonardo Cubillos, M.D., M.P.H., has been selected to serve as Director of the Center for Global Mental Health Research (CGMHR). As Director of CGMHR, Dr. Cubillos will be responsible for providing scientific leadership and direction on research in global mental health relevant to NIMH priorities. Dr. Cubillos will join NIMH in late May 2021 following completion of his current clinical responsibilities at Kaiser Permanente.
    • Alex Martin, Ph.D., Chief of the NIMH Intramural Research Programs (IRP) Section on Cognitive Neuropsychology, has been appointed as Acting Chief of the IRP Laboratory of Brain and Cognition. Dr. Martin has been at NIMH since 1990, where his research aims to elucidate the neural circuitry associated with specific perceptual, memory, and social functions. The IRP Laboratory of Brain and Cognition was previously overseen by Leslie G. Ungerleider, Ph.D., who passed away at the end of 2020.
  • Departing NIMH Staff 
    • Denise Juliano-Bult, M.S.W., Chief of the Systems Research and the Equity in Mental Health Services Research Programs in DSIR, retired in April 2021 after more than 35 years with NIMH. Ms. Juliano-Bult began her career at NIMH in the IRP conducting schizophrenia studies on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in 1985. She transitioned to the Extramural Research Program in 1992 and later became a Program Officer. In this role, she initiated and developed portfolios in research on housing, employment, and other services for people with serious mental illness; cross-systems strategies for people with mental illnesses involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems; and, services for transition-age youth and adults with ASD.
    • Jeanne Radcliffe, R.N., M.P.H., Associate Clinical Director and Director of the Office of Regulatory Oversight in the Office of the NIMH Clinical Director, retired in April 2021 after 37 years of government service. Ms. Radcliffe came to the NIH Clinical Center Nursing Department in 1986 to learn more about mental health. Jeanne worked her way up from being a Clinical Center staff nurse in the outpatient clinic as program coordinator for Geriatric Psychopharmacology to being the nurse manager of the inpatient geriatric psychiatry nursing unit. She joined NIMH in 2002 as the Associate Director for Protocol Management and facilitated the development of the Combined Neuroscience Institutional Review Board. In 2009, she became the Associate Clinical Director and directed the Office of Regulatory Oversight in the Office of the NIMH Clinical Director.
    • Ann Wagner, Ph.D., Director of the Office of National Autism Coordination, in the Office of the NIMH Director, will retire on June 30, 2021, after more than 20 years with NIMH. Dr. Wagner began her NIMH career in 2001 as a Program Officer in DSIR. In 2005, Dr. Wagner moved to a Branch Chief position in what was then then Division of Developmental Translational Research. In 2018, Dr. Wagner was appointed the National Autism Coordinator by HHS Secretary Alex Azar, assuming the responsibility of coordinating federal autism efforts across the U.S. Government. In 2019, Dr. Wagner moved to the Office of the NIMH Director, where she continued to provide subject matter expertise to NIMH and NIH research efforts in autism and in intervention development and clinical trials.
    • Lois Winsky, Ph.D., Chief of the Molecular, Cellular, and Genomics Neuroscience Research Branch, and Chief of the Integrative Systems Pharmacology Program in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science (DNBBS), will retire at the end of May 2021 after more than 30 years with NIMH. Dr. Winsky began her career at NIMH as an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in 1990 investigating the localization, structure, and function of the calcium binding protein calretinin in brain. She transitioned to the Extramural Research Program in the late 1990s and spear-headed programs in preclinical therapeutics, stress neurobiology, and integrative systems pharmacology. In her role as Branch Chief, she provided oversight for cutting edge programs in basic neuroscience, spanning signal transduction, neurodevelopment, neuroimmunology, neuropharmacology, systems pharmacology, and functional genomics.
  • NIMH Legacy News
    • We are sad to announce the passing of Stephen H. Koslow, Ph.D., on April 23, 2021. Dr. Koslow worked at NIMH from 1970 to 2005. During his tenure at NIMH, he established the Neuroscience program and launched the Human Brain Project, an initiative that cultivated international collaboration and data sharing towards a greater understanding of the brain.
  • NIMH Staff Awards
    • Karen Berman, M.D., Chief of the NIMH IRP Section on Integrative Neuroimaging, the Section on Psychosis and Cognitive Studies, and the Clinical and Translational Neuroscience Branch, was awarded the Society of Biological Psychiatry George N. Thompson Award for Distinguished Service. Dr. Berman received the award in honor of her outstanding service to the organization.