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2021 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. Director’s Updates

While the past year has been challenging, a new year brings the promise of change and hope. In this edition of the newsletter, we at NIMH reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight research by NIMH-supported scientists, and celebrate the accomplishments of staff and grantees.

News to Know

  • NIMH’s Response to COVID-19: We continue to monitor and respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. NIMH is involved in several trans-NIH efforts, including the Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Impacts of COVID-19 Working Group and multiple Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) programs, such as RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP). RADx-UP 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. In December 2020, NIMH published a Notice announcing the availability of administrative supplements for researchers to cover unanticipated costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic or related mitigation efforts. NIMH staff have developed resources and shared coping strategies to help people during the pandemic, and NIMH-supported researchers are hard at work examining the effects of COVID-19 on mental health and ways to improve telehealth during this challenging time. Dr. Gordon has spoken often about the impact of the pandemic, and in November 2020, he shared a personal perspective on the importance of remembering the lives lost to COVID-19. More information about NIH’s response to the pandemic and guidance for researchers can be found on the NIH COVID-19 webpage.
  • Accelerating Medicines Partnership in Schizophrenia (AMP-SCZ): On September 15, 2020, in collaboration with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and multiple public and private partners, NIMH launched the AMP-SCZ initiative. AMP-SCZ is part of the broader AMP program managed by FNIH, which aims to identify and validate the most promising biological targets for therapeutics. The overall aim of AMP-SCZ is to develop early stage interventions for patients who are at risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Outreach Spotlight: NIMH staff created and shared several educational resources to support community outreach efforts and raise awareness about mental health observances throughout fall and winter. In October, NIMH shared a new infographic, My Mental Health: Do I Need Help?, during Mental Illness Awareness Week and the recently revised brochure on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for OCD Awareness Week. October was also Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month. In recognition of this, NIMH hosted a social media livestream event about managing ADHD and posted a new ADHD shareables page on its Education and Awareness portal. In December, NIMH shared its new Seasonal Affective Disorder fact sheet and an updated HIV/AIDs and mental health page for World AIDS Day. To kick off 2021, NIMH distributed messages and resources to support self-care during the pandemic. NIMH also hosted a social media livestream event on managing stress and anxiety. In addition, NIMH participated in several virtual exhibits to reach the public, providers, and other stakeholders, including the USA Science and Engineering Festival, where NIMH shared its science education resources for children and teens.

Updates and Announcements from NIH

  • NIH in the Spotlight
    • NIH COVID-19 Vaccine Kick-Off Event: In a partnership with Moderna, NIH researchers successfully designed, created, and tested a COVID-19 vaccine candidate, building on years of basic and clinical research. This unprecedented scientific achievement comes less than a year following the identification of the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. On December 22, NIH held a COVID-19 vaccination kick-off event to mark the beginning of its vaccination program for employees on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The live event featured remarks by NIH Office of Research Services Director Colleen McGowan, HHS Secretary Alex Azar II, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci, M.D., and NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Six Clinical Center front-line health care workers were immunized with the first of two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, known as mRNA 1273. Ms. McGowan, Mr. Azar, Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Collins were also immunized to demonstrate their confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, which has been shown to be safe, and more than 94% efficacious in large-scale clinical trials. On January 26, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff received the second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Collins and Vice President Harris remarked on the impact of NIH science and the importance of immunization.
    • NIH Researcher Awarded Nobel Prize: On October 5, 2020, Harvey J. Alter, M.D., along with his colleagues Michael Houghton, Ph.D., and Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions to the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Dr. Alter has been with NIH for more than 50 years and currently works as a Senior Scholar at the NIH Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine.
  • NIH-Wide Initiatives
    • Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL)SM Initiative: On November 16-17, 2020, the National Institute on Drug Abuse hosted a two-day meeting to discuss updates on the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study , a research program that is part of the HEAL Initiative. The primary goal of the HBCD is to better understand how early exposure to opioids affects infant and child development. To accomplish this goal, HBCD is supporting research to better understand typical brain development, beginning in the prenatal period and extending through early childhood, including variability in development and how it contributes to cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional function. The meeting provided an opportunity for HBCD investigators to discuss progress, report findings, and develop plans for Phase II of the study. Investigators shared feedback on topics that will be helpful to HBCD as it moves into the second phase of the study, including strategies to establish partnerships across various communities (urban, rural, indigenous, etc.); ethical and legal considerations for participating mothers and children; effective recruitment and retention plans; protocol establishment for observational, behavioral, and imaging assessments; and, imaging and software technology development as well as feasibility and data quality testing.
    • All of Us Research Program: On November 12, 2020, the All of Us Research Program hosted a virtual event to provide information about their Researcher Workbench , a new cloud-based platform that enables investigators to execute rapid, hypothesis-driven research using the All of Us database, one of the largest and most diverse biomedical datasets of its kind. Attendees learned about the program’s vision, saw a demonstration of the Workbench, heard from other researchers who have leveraged All of Us data and tools to power their studies, and learned how to register, access, and analyze data in the Workbench.

    Budget Overview

    • Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Budget: NIMH awarded 607 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2020 and achieved an overall success rate of approximately 23 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 efforts, NIMH awarded grants to 99 unique early stage investigators and 183 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
      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

      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 2020. 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 270 for $170M.

      Figure 2
      NIMH FY 2020 Competing R01 and Equivalent Applications Awarded and Not-Awarded by Percentile Score Awarded Not Awarded
      1 14 0
      2 14 0
      3 14 0
      4 20 0
      5 17 0
      6 10 0
      7 18 0
      8 10 0
      9 10 0
      10 11 0
      11 13 4
      12 16 1
      13 8 1
      14 8 7
      15 7 3
      16 13 1
      17 9 3
      18 12 9
      19 5 4
      20 7 3
      21 1 5
      22 11 8
      23 7 8
      24 3 5
      25 3 13
      26 1 4
      27 1 10
      28 2 7
      29 1 16
      30 2 4
      31 0 10
      32 0 14
      33 0 3
      34 1 11
      35 0 24
      36 0 11
      37 0 14
      38 0 9
      39 1 12
      40 0 11
      41 0 12
      42 0 10
      43 0 7
      44 0 15
      45 0 13
      46 0 8
      47 0 16
      48 0 7
      49 0 16
      50 0 13
      51 0 12
      52 0 8
      53 0 4
      54 0 3
      55 0 2
      56 0 1

      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 1003.185
      2019 1814.185 1041.004
      2020 1972.966 1104.717
      2021 2053.708 1122.858

      Appropriation = the amount appropriated not the Actual Obligation.

    • Outlook for FY 2021: On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Public Law No. 116-260), providing funds through September 30, 2021. The bill provides $2.103 billion to NIMH, an increase of $80 million over the FY 2020 appropriation. This includes $50 million from the 21st Century Cures Act earmarked for the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative.

      NIMH Staff News and Awards

      • Staff News
        • Mi Hillefors, M.D., Ph.D., has been selected as the Deputy Director for the NIMH Division of Translational Research (DTR). Dr. Hillefors has been with NIMH for over 15 years; first, as a research fellow in the NIMH Intramural Research Program (IRP), then as a program officer, and most recently, as Acting Deputy Director for DTR.
        • We are sad to announce the passing of 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 IRP. Dr. Ungerleider worked at NIMH for 45 years, where she studied how the brain processes visual information and co-discovered what are now known colloquially as the "what and where" pathways, one pathway for object recognition and the other for spatial perception. Leslie will be remembered as an extraordinary mentor and first-class NIH citizen who gave both her heart and mind to the support of the NIH mission.
      • Staff Awards
        • Carlos Zarate, M.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator and Chief of the NIMH IRP Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine for the paradigm-shifting discovery that a single ketamine infusion has rapid, robust, and relatively sustained antidepressant effects in individuals with treatment-resistant depression and bipolar depression. Election to the National Academy of Medicine is one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.
        • Several researchers in the NIMH IRP were awarded Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) Young Investigator Grants to help extend their research fellowship training or begin careers as independent research faculty.
          • Simone Haller, Ph.D. (Neuroscience and Novel Therapeutics Unit)
          • Bashkim Kadriu, M.D. (Experimental Therapeutics and Pathophysiology Branch)
          • Mario Penzo, Ph.D. (Unit on the Neurobiology of Affective Memory)
          • Hugo Tejeda, Ph.D. (Unit on Neuromodulation and Synaptic Integration)