2022 Winter Inside NIMH
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 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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NIMH is actively engaged in efforts to address the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent need to make the biomedical research community more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. In this edition of Inside NIMH, we highlight advances made across several NIH-wide initiatives, review updates to COVID-19 guidance for the public and researchers, and celebrate significant achievements by staff and grantees.
News to Know
- NIMH’s Response to COVID-19: As we approach the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, NIMH continues to support research on the effects of the pandemic, including the social, behavioral, and economic changes that continue to impact public health. NIMH is committed to supporting those hardest hit by the pandemic, including children. In a recent NIMH Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon described strategies to support the mental health of children and adolescents as they navigate the myriad disruptions and stressors posed by the pandemic. Additionally, NIMH continues to provide resources on coping with COVID-19 and share updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as the recent notification that having certain mental disorders, including depression and schizophrenia, can make people more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines (initial doses and boosters) and mitigation measures can help save lives and protect the most vulnerable, including those who are older, have certain mental disorders, or have other health conditions noted by the CDC.
- U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Youth Mental Health: Addressing the mental health needs of youth is a priority for Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A, the U.S. Surgeon General. On December 7, 2021, Dr. Murthy’s office released Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory (Advisory), which describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth mental health. Further, the Advisory includes actionable steps for young people and their caregivers, schools, health leaders, community organizations, funders, media and technology companies, employers, and government organizations to protect youth mental health.
- NIMH’s Approach to Mental Health Disparities Research: NIMH supports research to advance policies and practices that aim to reduce mental health disparities, promote equity, and address the needs of individuals from underserved communities and those who are underrepresented in health research. In response to a call for action by Dr. Gordon, NIMH created the Approach to Mental Health Disparities Research, which outlines five specific priority research areas, including youth suicide in Black and other minoritized communities; population-based studies; mechanism-based intervention development and testing; implementation science; and integrated, multi-stakeholder approaches to research.
- Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) Publishes Latest Brain Atlas Findings: The NIH-funded BICCN is a collaborative effort between more than 250 scientists at nearly 50 institutions across three continents. The BICCN is tasked with developing novel technologies to identify and characterize brain cell types; to use those technologies to develop a brain-wide census of cell types; to create an atlas of cell types for mouse, monkey, and human brains; and, to share these data with the neuroscience community. In October 2021, the BICCN published a cell census and detailed atlas of the cell types found in the motor cortex, offering a foundation for more in-depth study of cell types in the rest of the brain. The findings from this collaborative effort, which are available via the BICCN data catalog, represent a milestone in mapping the brain and offer potential targets for treating brain-based disorders.
- Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC) Study Sheds Light on Bipolar Disorder: The PGC is a global collaboration with more than 800 investigators, including but not limited to researchers in the NIMH Intramural Research Programs (IRP) and extramural scientists conducting related NIMH-supported research. PGC research is aimed at understanding the genetic basis of 11 psychiatric disorders with significant morbidity and mortality, including bipolar disorder. The PGC recently published the results of a genome-wide association study that revealed common genetic variations that are more likely to occur in people with bipolar disorder. For example, the researchers discovered 64 risk loci associated with bipolar disorder, 33 of which had not been reported in previous studies. This work may help improve understanding of the biological origins of bipolar disorder and provide new genetic targets for treatments.
- Outreach Spotlight: Over the last few months, NIMH has continued to create and share resources to support community mental health education. On January 28, 2022, NIMH launched a new Science Education page to highlight its science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities in the community and provide resources to educate youth about the brain and mental health. As daylight hours decreased in the fall, NIMH promoted its resources on seasonal affective disorder, including a new infographic, and hosted a livestream event. NIMH also created several new resources to support health observance educational activities. To support Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, NIMH hosted a livestream event on suicide prevention during COVID-19. In recognition of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month in October, NIMH published a new brochure on ADHD in children and teens and released a short video on ADHD as part of its Mental Health Minute series. This series offers overviews of mental disorders studied by NIMH, such as stress and anxiety in adolescents, bipolar disorder in adults, and anxiety in adults.
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Updates: On October 13 – 14, 2021, the IACC held a virtual Full Committee Meeting. The Committee discussed National Disability Employment Awareness Month, international strategies to improve the lives of autistic people, updates to Kevin and Avonte’s Law, the National Autism Indicators Report on Mental Health, and the update to the IACC Strategic Plan. On January 19, 2022, the IACC held another Full Committee Meeting, which included presentations from the Social Security Administration, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, and the Lancet’s Commission on the future of healthcare and clinical research in autism. The Committee also heard public comments and discussed committee business, including the IACC Strategic Plan. On behalf of the IACC, the NIMH Office of Autism Research Coordination issued a Request for Information (RFI) to inform the development of the 2021-2022 IACC Strategic Plan. As part of efforts to promote inclusion, the RFI was also issued in Spanish.
Updates and Announcements from NIH
- NIH-wide Initiatives
- The Power of an Inclusive Workplace Recognition Project: In recognition that artwork in shared or public spaces encodes an institution’s values and provides messages to its members about belonging, the NIH UNITE initiative launched The Power of an Inclusive Workplace Recognition Project to diversify the portraiture in NIH buildings and digital spaces. The project was spearheaded by Sadhana Jackson, M.D., co-chair of the UNITE “T” Committee, which is focused on transparency, communication, and accountability with internal and external stakeholders. The project aims to recognize the contributions of all NIH staff and engender a spirit of inclusion by acknowledging the rich diversity of the NIH workforce. It is one of many efforts by the UNITE initiative to reduce barriers and provide solutions to creating racial equity in the biomedical research workforce.
- NIH Common Fund Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity Initiative: The Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative aims to support highly innovative research projects with potential to develop, disseminate, or implement interventions that prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and health inequities. As part of this initiative, the NIH Common Fund hosted a series of facilitated community listening sessions to gather input on opportunities, challenges, and community needs related to interventions targeting drivers of health disparities. The series included perspectives from stakeholders in academic institutions; non-profit, community-based, and faith-based organizations; foundations, think tanks, and professional societies; and, tribal communities and organizations. In addition, the NIH Common Fund released a Notice describing plans to expand support for health disparities research at minority serving institutions.
- NIH Genomic Data Sharing (GDS) Policy: To keep pace with evolving scientific opportunities and stakeholder expectations, NIH issued an RFI on potential updates to the NIH GDS Policy. NIH also aims to harmonize the GDS Policy with the NIH Data Management and Sharing Policy. NIH will accept comments until February 28, 2022.
- Accelerating Medicines Partnership® (AMP®) Bespoke Gene Therapy Consortium: On October 29, 2021, in collaboration with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and multiple public and private partners, NIH announced the launch of the AMP Bespoke Gene Therapy Consortium to accelerate development of gene therapies for the 30 million Americans who have a rare disease. NIH and its partners plan to contribute approximately $76 million over five years to optimize and streamline the gene therapy development process to help fill the unmet medical needs of people with rare diseases. This includes approximately $39.5 million from participating NIH Institutes and Centers, including NIMH, pending availability of funds.
- REsearching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative: On September 15, 2021, the NIH RECOVER Initiative announced that it awarded nearly $470 million to build a national study population of diverse research volunteers and support large-scale studies on the long-term effects of COVID-19. The parent award was made to New York University (NYU) Langone Health, which will make sub-awards to more than 100 researchers across 30 institutions and will serve as the RECOVER Clinical Science Core. This major new award to NYU Langone supports new studies of COVID-19 survivors and leverages existing long-running large cohort studies to gain a greater understanding of the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, including its impacts on mental health.
- Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL)SM Initiative: On August 26, 2021, the Directors of the NIH HEAL Initiative, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke published an article outlining ongoing HEAL research efforts, including: new approaches to treating neuropathic pain; development of innovative devices to treat infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal symptoms; and, clinical studies aimed at defining a standard of care for babies born dependent on opioids. This article also highlights the results of strategies to find scientific solutions to addressing the nation’s opioid crisis. The urgency to address the crisis has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as deaths from drug overdose rose 30 percent in 2020.
- BRAIN Initiative:
- Six BRAIN Initiative Scientists Receive NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Awards: The NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program supports exceptionally creative scientists pursuing highly innovative research with the potential for broad impact in biomedical, behavioral, or social sciences within the NIH mission. Six BRAIN Initiative-funded scientists were among those selected: Polina Anikeeva, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); Rui Costa, DVM, Ph.D. (Columbia University); Josh Huang, Ph.D. (Duke University); Mikhail Shapiro, Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); Chethan Pandarinath, Ph.D. (Georgia Institute of Technology); and, Todd Roberts, Ph.D. (University of Texas – Southwestern).
- New Requirement for BRAIN Initiative Applicants: Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives (PEDP): NIH recognizes that diverse teams working together and capitalizing on innovative ideas and distinct perspectives outperform homogeneous teams. With this in mind, the BRAIN Initiative issued a Notice informing applicants of a new requirement to submit a PEDP as part of their grant application, when specified.
- NIH in the Spotlight:
- On December 2, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden visited NIH to announce the administration’s action plan for battling COVID-19 over the winter months. The plan covers six key strategies: vaccinating the unvaccinated, further protecting the vaccinated, keeping schools safely open, increasing testing and requiring masking, protecting our economic recovery, and improving care for those with COVID-19. President Biden also celebrated NIH’s efforts to support COVID-19 mitigation measures and develop life-saving vaccines.
- On November 4, 2021, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm, and members of their staff came to the NIH campus. Secretary Becerra and his team visited the NIH Clinical Center, where they learned about cutting-edge cancer research, met with a patient, and heard from NIH leadership. They also toured NIH’s Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center and attended a briefing on coronavirus vaccine development.
- NIH Leadership News
- On December 19, 2021, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., stepped down from his role as the Director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins was the longest serving presidentially appointed NIH Director, having served three U.S. Presidents over more than 12 years. President Biden described Dr. Collins as “one of the most important scientists of our time,” and Dr. Collins’ impact has been felt throughout the scientific community and beyond. During his tenure as NIH Director, Dr. Collins established bold initiatives, such as the All of US Research Program, the HEAL Initiative, and the BRAIN Initiative, to tackle some of the most pressing health issues facing Americans. Dr. Collins also bolstered policies and activities to address sexual harassment and structural racism in the biomedical research community. Prior to becoming the NIH Director, Dr. Collins served as the Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) for 15 years, where he led the international Human Genome Project. Dr. Collins will remain a member of the NIH community, leading his research laboratory at NHGRI where he studies causes and means of preventing type 2 diabetes. Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., will serve at the Acting NIH Director until President Biden appoints Dr. Collins’ successor.
- On September 30, 2021, NIH announced the retirement of William Riley, Ph.D., Director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research (OBSSR) and NIH Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Science Research (BSSR). During his time as Director, Dr. Riley significantly advanced understanding of BSSR and integrated BSSR into broader biomedical research efforts. The integration of BSSR with the neuroscience, genetics, and “omics” fields is beginning to shed light on the many complex interactions between the brain, behavior, and environment. Christine M. Hunter, Ph.D., Deputy Director of OBSSR, will serve as Acting Director of OBSSR and Acting NIH Associate Director for BSSR while a search is conducted.
- Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Budget: NIMH awarded 647 new and competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY 2021 and achieved an overall success rate of approximately 22 percent (defined as number of RPG applications funded divided by the number of applications received; see below). Cures Awards are funded by appropriations made available through the 21st Century Cures Act. In accordance with Next Generation Researchers Initiative efforts, NIMH awarded grants to 99 unique early stage investigators and 217 unique at-risk investigators.
- The next figure shows the number of competing R01 and equivalent applications that were awarded or not awarded across the full percentile scoring range in FY 2021. The number of percentiled competing awards was 256 for $155 million.
- The figure below shows the NIMH budget in appropriated (current) versus constant (FY 2010) 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 2010. NIMH has received several increases in appropriation over the past decade and actual purchasing power has increased 9.6 percent since FY 2010.
- Outlook for FY 2022: NIMH remains in a continuing resolution (CR) through February 18, 2022. While operating under a CR, non-competing grants will be awarded at levels below the committed amounts, typically at 90 percent. On July 12, 2021, the House Appropriations Subcommittee approved an FY 2022 funding bill. The House bill would authorize $2.223 billion for NIMH, an increase of 5.7 percent over FY 2021 appropriations. On October 18, 2021 the Senate Appropriations Committee released the FY 2022 funding bill. The Senate bill would authorize $2.219 billion for NIMH, an increase of 5.5 percent over FY 2021 appropriations and would specifically authorize $25 million to expand research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.
NIMH Staff News and Awards
- Staff News
- Robert Heinssen, Ph.D., ABPP, plans to step down from his role as the Director of the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research (DSIR) in June 2022. Dr. Heinssen has served in this role since 2009. During his time leading DSIR, he has focused on key initiatives aimed at first episode psychosis, suicide prevention, and the rapid implementation of evidence-based services in real-world settings. Notably, Dr. Heinssen was the principal architect of the Early Psychosis Intervention Network (EPINET), the nation’s first learning health care system for people with serious mental illness. Dr. Heinssen’s leadership in promoting evidence-based, person-centered treatment for serious mental illness has earned him many awards, including the 2019 Distinguished Service Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Heinssen will remain a member of the NIMH team, serving as a Senior Advisor to the NIMH Director. A national search for his replacement will begin in winter 2022.
- Several staff in the NIMH IRP have retired:
- Robert Cox, Ph.D., Director of the Scientific and Statistical Computing Core, retired on December 31, 2021.
- Christian Grillon, Ph.D., Chief of the Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety retired on December 31, 2021.
- Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., Director of the Human Brain Collection Core, retired on December 31, 2021.
- Carolyn Beebe Smith, Ph.D., Chief of the Section on Neuroadaptation and Protein Metabolism, retired on November 18, 2021.
- Silvia López-Gúzman, M.D., Ph.D., joined the NIMH IRP as a tenure-track investigator and Chief of the Unit on Computation Decision Neuroscience. Dr. López-Gúzman studies the computational and neurobiological bases of decision-making, including how the decision-making process is altered in individuals with mental disorders, substance use disorders, and chronic pain.
- NIMH is sad to announce the passing of two former employees:
- Mortimer Mishkin, Ph.D., former Chief of the NIMH IRP Laboratory of Neuropsychology and one of NIH’s preeminent cognitive neuroscientists. Dr. Mishkin worked at NIMH for more than six decades, where his foundational research elucidated the pathways through which vision, hearing, and touch connect with brain structures to encode memory. Dr. Mishkin received many accolades over the course of his career, including election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1984 and the National Academy of Medicine in 1990. In 2010, Dr. Mishkin was honored with the prestigious National Medal of Science, making him one of only three NIH scientists to receive this award to date. He will be remembered for his incredible contributions to cognitive neuroscience, as well as his commitment to mentorship and support of women scientists.
- Over the years, David Shore, M.D., served NIMH in many capacities. He began as a researcher and later took on roles such as Acting Director of DSIR, Acting Director of the Division of Clinical and Treatment Research, and finally, NIMH Associate Director for Clinical Research. One of his many roles as the Associate Director for Clinical Research was to serve as the Scientific Administrator of NIMH Data and Safety Monitoring Boards, which assure the safety of research participants and the integrity of the valuable research data collected. Dr. Shore’s contributions have been recognized through several awards, including NAMI’s Exemplary Psychiatrist Award. He will be remembered for his lifelong commitment to advancing bioethics and improving the protection of research participants.
- Staff Awards
- Elisabeth Murray, Ph.D., Chief of the Section on Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the Laboratory of Neuropsychology in the NIMH IRP, received the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Research. This award recognizes excellence in neurobiological research at the cellular, physiological, or behavioral levels that may lead to a greater understanding of underlying psychiatric or neurological disease. During the award ceremony, Dr. Murray delivered a presentation entitled “From Knowledge to Action: Roles of the Primate Prefrontal Cortex.”
- The Society for Neuroscience posthumously recognized Leslie Ungerleider, Ph.D., with the Patricia Goldman-Rakic Hall of Honor award. Dr. Ungerleider was an NIH Distinguished Investigator and served as the Chief of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition and the Section on Neurocircuitry in the NIMH IRP. The award recognizes neuroscientists who have pursued career excellence and exhibited dedication to the advancement of women in neuroscience. Dr. Ungerleider was a champion for women in neuroscience, training her students to be talented scientists while also teaching them how to negotiate their salaries. She was instrumental in the fight to rectify gender-based salary disparities at the NIH. Her impact on neuroscience research and commitment to the NIH mission will not be forgotten.
Director’s Highlights: NIMH Scientists and Science
We are proud to recognize significant achievements and awards received by our current grantees.
- Election to the National Academy of Medicine (Academy) is one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. In October 2021, several NIMH grantees were elected to the Academy in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the advancement of medical sciences, healthcare, and public health:
- Kafui Dzirasa, M.D., Ph.D. (Duke University)
- Katherine A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D. (University of Massachusetts)
- Rene Hen, Ph.D. (Columbia University)
- Joan Luby, M.D. (Washington University in St. Louis)
- Lennart Mucke, M.D. (Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease; University of California - San Francisco)
- Guillermo Prado, Ph.D. (University of Miami)
- Several NIMH-supported researchers were honored at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting in December 2021.
- Daniel Efron Research Award: Kafui Dzirasa, M.D., Ph.D. (Duke University)
- Joel Elkes Research Award: Randy Auerbach, Ph.D. (Columbia University)
- Barbara Fish Memorial Award: Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D. (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)
- Eva King Killam Research Award: Susanne Ahmari, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Pittsburgh)
- Julius Axelrod Mentorship Award: John Mann, M.D. (Columbia University)
- 2021 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Lasker Foundation
- Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D. (Stanford University)
- 2021 Jacob P. Waletsky Memorial Award, Society for Neuroscience
- Mary Kay Lobo, Ph.D. (University of Maryland)
- 2021 Peter and Patricia Gruber International Award in Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience
- Azahara Oliva, Ph.D. (Cornell University)
- 2021 Colvin Prizewinner for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorder Research, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation
- Katherine Burdick, Ph.D. (Harvard University)
Notable NIMH Grants
The following is a selection of the Institute’s most recently funded projects that exemplify our efforts to accelerate research on mental illnesses, and to achieve the research goals outlined in the NIMH Strategic Plan for Research.
- Microglia, a type of immune cell in the brain, are known to modulate connections between neurons. However, it is unclear how microglia influence the formation and functions of neural networks. With funding from the NIMH Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Sciences, Jordan Hamm, Ph.D. (Georgia State University), plans to explore interactions between microglia and neurons in the developing prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area of the brain that underlies cognitive function. Using a combination of genetic, pharmacological, neural recording, and behavioral techniques, Dr. Hamm aims to determine if microglia guide neural circuit development and behavior. Further, he intends to examine sex differences in microglia-neuron interactions. Clarifying how sex modulates the role of microglia in the PFC during development is critical, as there are known sex differences in the emergence of adolescent onset psychiatric disorders affecting cognitive, social, and emotional domains.
- Suicide rates have been steadily rising in the U.S. for the past two decades. While recent progress has been made in bending the curve of this trajectory, much work remains to save lives. With support from the NIMH Division of Translational Research, Nolan Williams, M.D. (Stanford University), plans to test the efficacy and safety of personalized, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS; which uses magnets to activate specific parts of the brain) for reducing suicidal thoughts in patients hospitalized in psychiatric units. The approach Dr. Williams developed is called the Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy (SAINT), and preliminary studies indicate that SAINT induces remission in 90 percent of individuals with treatment-resistant depression. Further, SAINT-induced remission was associated with significant reductions in suicidal ideation. This study may help researchers understand and regulate the neural circuitry that underlies suicidal thoughts, along with contributing factors such as hopelessness, anhedonia, and depression.
- Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a life-threatening and costly illness. Individuals with severe AN are often treated in an acute care setting, but relapse following discharge is common. The NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research recently funded three studies focused on testing post-acute interventions designed to prevent relapse for individuals with AN. Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, Ph.D. (Washington University in St. Louis), plans to test the effectiveness of a coach-guided cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)-based mobile app to reduce residual symptoms among individuals recently discharged from acute care. The app aims to facilitate the delivery of evidence-based treatment and thereby increase access to high-quality therapy for better long-term outcomes. Kelsie Forbush, Ph.D. (University of Kansas, Lawrence), developed Smart Treatment for Anorexia Recovery (STAR), a suite of digital tools to assess AN, predict risk for relapse, and support clinical decision-making in the post-acute treatment window. Dr. Forbush now plans to adapt these tools for mobile health (mHealth) delivery, making it possible for clinicians to be alerted when their patients are at high risk for relapse. Joanna Steinglass, M.D., and Evelyn Attia, M.D. (Columbia University), aim to optimize Relapse Prevention and Changing Habits (REACH+), a telehealth intervention that targets entrenched thoughts, feelings, and habits in individuals with AN. Drs. Steinglass and Attia hope to determine which elements of the intervention are most strongly associated with improved clinical outcomes, with the goal of developing a streamlined treatment for use during the post-acute treatment period.
- Brain pericytes are cells that regulate blood flow in the central nervous system (CNS) and are a vital component in maintaining the stability of the blood-brain barrier. These cells are also known to play a role in the brain’s immune function; however, some recent studies suggest that brain pericytes may be able to become infected with HIV and contribute to the formation of HIV reservoirs in the CNS. With support from the NIMH Division of AIDS Research, Michal Toborek, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Miami), aims to confirm reports of HIV-infected brain pericytes, characterize the extent of the infection, and determine functional outcome of infection in these cells. The focus on brain pericytes makes this research particularly innovative and novel, as these cells have only recently been hypothesized to harbor HIV. The outcomes of this study could help researchers identify treatment targets for eradicating HIV from the CNS.
For more information on these and other grants selected for funding, visit the NIH RePORTER website.
Featured Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) and Initiatives
NIH electronically posts in the NIH Guide a listing of all NIH FOAs, including program announcements and requests for applications, as well as important notices for the scientific community. Below is a description of some types of FOAs and Notices, as well as a selection of “Featured FOAs” in which NIMH participates. The Funding page on the NIMH website also has links to listings of all NIMH FOAs and other resources. Information about the review process can be found on NIH’s Understand Funding Opportunities webpage.
Program Announcements (PAs) are formal statements about new or ongoing extramural activities or programs. NIH may also make funds available through PARs (PAs with special receipt, referral, and/or review considerations) and PASs (PAs with set-aside funds). These types of FOAs may serve as a reminder of continuing interest in a research area, describe modifications to an activity or program, and/or invite applications for grant support.
Featured PAs, PARs, or PASs:
- Utilizing Invasive Recording and Stimulating Opportunities in Humans to Advance Neural Circuitry Understanding of Mental Health Disorders (PAR-21-288, PAR-21-289)
- Mental Health Research Dissertation Grant to Enhance Workforce Diversity (PAR-21-325)
- Research on Biopsychosocial Factors of Social Connectedness and Isolation on Health, Wellbeing, Illness, and Recovery (PAR-21-349)
- Neuromodulation/Neurostimulation Device Development for Mental Health Applications (PAR-22-038, PAR-22-039)
- Urgent Award: COVID-19 Mental Health Research (PAR-22-112, PAR-22-113)
Notices of Special Interest
Notices of Special Interest (NOSIs) have replaced Institute-issued PAs to highlight interest in a research area that does not have set-aside funds or special review criteria or review considerations. NOSIs direct applicants to one or more active FOAs (often parent announcements) for submission of applications for the initiative described.
- Social, Behavioral, and Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Underserved and Vulnerable Populations (NOT-MH-21-330)
- Administrative Supplements for Embedded Ethicists into BRAIN Initiative Supported Research (NOT-MH-22-040)
- Secondary Analysis of Posttraumatic Psychopathology Data (NOT-MH-22-045)
- COVID-19 Pandemic Mental Health Research (NOT-MH-22-100)
Requests for Applications
Requests for Applications (RFAs) are formal statements that solicit grant or cooperative agreement applications in a well-defined scientific area to accomplish specific program objectives. RFAs often list a single receipt date in the announcement and indicate the amount of funds set aside for the RFA in a given fiscal year. Applications in response to RFAs are reviewed using FOA-specific peer review criteria, which usually includes review by a Scientific Review Group specially convened by the awarding component that issued the RFA.
- Pilot Practice-based Research for Primary Care Suicide Prevention (RFA-MH-22-120)
- Enhanced Interpersonal Focused Strategies for Suicide Prevention Interventions (RFA-MH-22-125)
- Social Disconnection and Suicide Risk in Late Life (RFA-MH-22-135, RFA-MH-22-136)
- Using Just-in-Time Adaptive Interventions to Optimize Established Adolescent Mental Health Treatments (RFA-MH-22-150)
NIH periodically issues Notices to update or clarify policies. For example, NIH uses Notices to solicit information from the extramural community, such as a request for information (RFI). NIH may also release Notices of Intent to Publish (NOITPs) to alert the grantee community of an upcoming FOA (particularly FOAs that may require coordination by multiple investigators) or if there will be a shorter than normal time from publication of the FOA to the first application receipt date (such as with a reissue of an existing FOA). For the most up-to-date list of NIH and NIMH-issued notices, visit the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts website.
- NIMH Priorities on Research Using Genetically Modified Nonhuman Primates (NOT-MH-22-010)
You can subscribe to the NIMH Funding Opportunities ListServ to receive the latest information about NIMH funding opportunities, as well as administrative updates and changes to grant policies and procedures. You can also subscribe to a separate listserv to receive weekly e-mails from the NIH Guide.
Please see the Electronic Research Administration (eRA) Activities section for updates relating to COVID-19.
Future Research Directions
Concept Clearances for Potential New Research Initiatives
This list of concept clearances offers the earliest possible alert to the field of our research interests and potential upcoming funding announcements. While NIMH plans to proceed with these initiatives, their publication and timing are not certain and depend on sufficient funding. The titles and brief descriptions are consistent with the information available at the time of concept clearance. The resultant FOAs may differ from the concepts in the final wording of their titles or other aspects.
- Addressing Mental Health Disparities Research Gaps: Aggregating and Mining Existing Data Sets for Secondary Analyses
- Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative: Brain-Behavior Quantification and Synchronization
- Integrating Mental Health Care into Health Care Systems in Low- and Middle-Income Countries and Other Low-Resources Settings
- Mental Health Research Dissertation Grant to Enhance Workforce Diversity
- Neuron-Glia Computations Governing Complex Behaviors
- NIMH Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (NIMH BRAINS)
- Post-Acute Interventions to Optimize Long-Term Mental Health Outcomes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
- Listening Session Town Hall: On January 21, 2022, the NIMH Office of the Director and the NIMH Office of Disparities Research and Workforce Diversity (ODWD) hosted a virtual listening session to better understand barriers and facilitators to achieving racial and ethnic equity in grant funding success. The listening session featured panels of researchers from multiple career stages, including trainees, early stage investigators, and established investigators. Panelists described their individual experiences applying for NIMH funding and offered their perspectives on how NIMH could better support minoritized grant applicants, including those from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in mental health research.
- NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: Addressing Social Determinants to Optimize Infant Brain Development: On January 18, 2022, the NIMH Division of Extramural Affairs (DEA) hosted Cynthia Rogers, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Equity at Washington University, as a guest speaker in the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series. In her virtual talk, Dr. Rogers described the role of social determinants on neonatal brain development and subsequent social-emotional development, as well as prevention and intervention strategies to optimize child development.
- School-based Suicide Prevention: Promising Approaches and Opportunities for Research: On January 14, 2022, NIMH hosted a webinar to learn about new and innovative practices in school-based suicide prevention. School administrators, researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and representatives from funding agencies gathered to discuss risk identification, follow-up, and referral for additional services for youth at high-risk for suicide. Attendees also learned about preliminary research efforts and ways to overcome common barriers to implementing suicide prevention in schools, including data collection and evaluation.
- Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities: On January 12 – 13, 2022, NIMH, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism co-hosted a virtual workshop on gaps, challenges, and opportunities in psychedelics research. Presenters described the neural mechanisms underlying psychedelics, discussed appropriate settings and regulatory requirements for properly studying the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, and reviewed data from clinical studies using psychedelics. In addition, presenters discussed how to design psychedelic therapies that can realistically and ethically be implemented and reimbursed by medical insurers.
- NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: Lessons from the Journey of a Black Scientist; NIH-funded Investigator; Diversity Equity, and Inclusion Leader; and, Mental Health Advocate: On December 9, 2021, the NIMH DEA hosted Nii Addy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Yale School of Medicine, as a guest speaker in the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series. In his virtual talk, Dr. Addy shared his experiences and journey as a Black scientist; a mentor; a mentee; a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion; and a mental health advocate.
- NIH Youth Mental Health Disparities Conference: On December 8 – 9, 2021, NIMH, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities co-hosted a virtual conference aimed at identifying opportunities and priorities in youth mental health disparities research. The conference, convened in response to Congressional interest, brought together experts in health disparities research to discuss research opportunities and gaps, as well as evidence-based solutions and therapeutic interventions.
- Sleep and Neurodevelopment Symposium: On November 18, 2021, the NIMH Intramural Research Programs, the Pediatric Epilepsy Research Foundation, and the Baylor College of Medicine and Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital convened a virtual workshop to discuss the role of sleep in establishing healthy neural networks during neurodevelopment. Clinicians and translational scientists with expertise in mechanisms underlying the role of sleep in the developing brain and biomarker development in neurodevelopmental disorders came together to identify gaps in the field and research opportunities.
- Advancing Training in Suicide Prevention Clinical Care: On November 3 and 8, 2021, the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research (DSIR) and the NIMH Suicide Prevention Research Team hosted a virtual workshop to assess the current state of suicide prevention training in clinical care. Presenters described barriers and facilitators of successful training, strategies to optimize the clinical workforce to help individuals at risk for suicide, benefits and drawbacks of digital tools and technologies meant to enhance training effectiveness, and opportunities to create a system of care that reflects patient preferences and provides better support for clinicians.
- NIMH Livestream Event: Seasonal Affective Disorder: On October 26, 2021, NIMH hosted a livestream event on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) featuring Matthew Rudorfer, M.D., Chief of the NIMH Adult Psychopharmacology, Somatic, and Integrated Treatment Research Program. Dr. Rudorfer discussed the signs, symptoms, treatments, and the latest research on SAD. In addition, he explained that while SAD is usually associated with cold, dark days in the late fall and winter, some experience SAD in the summer with hot weather.
- Macrophage Infection by HIV: Implications for Pathogenesis and Cure: On October 13 – 14, 2021, the NIMH Division of AIDS Research and the Ragon Institute conducted a virtual meeting to discuss macrophage infection by HIV. Macrophages are specialized cells that detect and clear pathogens, harmful organisms, and dead cells from the body. However, macrophages can also become infected with HIV and once infected, are hard to clear from the central nervous system. During this meeting, attendees discussed macrophage interactions with the immune system during HIV infection, how to remove HIV-infected macrophages from the body, research gaps and priorities in macrophage research, and treatment strategies for HIV remission and cure. Presenters also described recent work on macrophage inflammation in the context of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
- NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: Life Through a Navajo Lens Beyond the Navajo Reservation: On October 12, 2021, the NIMH DEA hosted Glorinda Segay, D.B.H., Director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Indian Health Service (IHS), in a virtual talk as part of the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series. Dr. Segay shared her personal journey, described her work at IHS, and detailed agency activities that promote mental health among Native Americans.
- NIMH Livestream Event on Suicide Prevention During COVID-19: A Continuing Priority: On September 22, 2021, in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, NIMH hosted a livestream event featuring Stephen O’Connor, Ph.D., Chief of the Suicide Prevention Research Program in the NIMH DSIR, and Lynsay Ayer, Ph.D., NIMH Senior Advisor on Youth and Suicide Prevention. Drs. O’Connor and Ayer focused on job loss, housing instability, food insecurity, and other risk factors for poor outcomes that have disproportionately impacted minority communities. In addition, they discussed social support as a means of coping and a protective factor for both youth and adults, and recommendations for receiving support despite isolation during the pandemic.
- Advancing Evidence-Based Interventions to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Youth: On September 21, 2021, NIMH ODWD hosted a webinar focused on identifying strategies to address mental health disparities faced by sexual and gender minority youth of color. NIMH-supported researchers described efforts to tailor and implement evidence-based interventions to improve mental health outcomes. Understanding how LGBTQ+ youth of color and their families negotiate intersecting identities, manage stigma and discrimination, and develop or utilize social support systems may help improve their access to mental health services.
Electronic Research Administration (eRA) Activities
Electronic Grant Application Submission News
- Reminder: Required Use of FORMS-G Application Forms for Application Submission: For due dates on or after January 25, 2022, applicants will be required to use FORMS-G (NOT-OD-22-018). Instructions and significant changes to form instructions are available for applicant reference.
- Updates to NIH Clinical Trial Definition: NIH recently updated its list of frequently asked questions to help clarify the definition of a clinical trial. The definition now explains that if one aim or a small part of the proposed project in an NIH grant application meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial, the entire NIH grant application is considered a clinical trial (question 10). If applicants have questions about the clinical trial status of their proposed research, they are encouraged to contact program staff prior to application submission.
NIH-Wide Grant News
- Post-Submission Material Policy During the COVID-19 Pandemic: NIH is allowing the submission of preliminary data after application submission for many funding opportunities as long as it is provided to NIH at least 30 days before the study section meeting (NOT-OD-22-047).
- Clarification and Guidance for Applicants Preparing Applications for the Spring 2022 Due Dates During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Grant applications should not include contingency or recovery plans for matters resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the NIH has clarified that investigators may, in the personal statement of the biosketch, address the effects of the pandemic on productivity or other scoreable issues (NOT-OD-22-046). Please review the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Information for NIH Applicants and Recipients of NIH Funding webpage for more information.
For more information on all of these updates, please see the NIH eRA News page.
Questions? Contact the eRA Service desk. Note that contacting this help desk is the only way to document problems with an electronic grant application submission. Evidence of this contact is the only way to be eligible for any special consideration by the Center for Scientific Review Division of Receipt and Referral, should you run into a system problem with Grants.gov or with eRA that is beyond your control.
Research Training and Career Development
- Second Annual NIH Outstanding Scholars in Neuroscience Award Program (OSNAP): On November 30 – December 1, 2021, NIH honored the recipients of the 2021 OSNAP Program. OSNAP is an NIH-wide initiative designed to acknowledge and support individuals who are conducting exceptional research in neuroscience and have shown great potential in their scientific training. The program is sponsored by NIMH and seven other NIH Institutes and Centers.
- Creating a Community for the Next Generation of Researchers: On October 26, 2021, NIH staff held a virtual workshop for awardees of BRAIN Initiative training mechanisms at various career stages to share career experiences and job advice, learn from those who have successfully transitioned to tenure-track faculty positions, and foster a thriving community of next-generation researchers.
NIMH’s Director’s Messages provide insights into the latest topics in mental health research:
- Steps Toward Equity at NIMH: An Update (January 5, 2022): In this Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon provides an update on efforts to advance equity, promote anti-racist ideas and actions, and encourage lasting change at NIMH.
- A Milestone in Mapping the Brain (October 6, 2021): In this jointly written Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon and Walter Koroshetz, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, discuss the landmark achievement represented by the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network. This collaboration of over 250 scientists from nearly 50 research institutions uses novel technologies to identify and characterize brain cell types towards building atlases for the mouse, monkey, and human brains.
- Supporting Kids’ Mental Health During COVID-19 (September 16, 2021): In this jointly written Director’s Message, Dr. Gordon and Rachel Levine, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, recognize the many disruptions and stressors that children have faced over the last two years and provide an overview of ongoing research and accessible services that can reduce health risks and improve coping strategies for all children.
Here is the latest news about NIMH-supported research:
- Dr. Robert Heinssen to Step Down as DSIR Director (January 25, 2022)
- Persistent, Distressing Psychotic-like Experiences Associated with Impairment in Youth (November 17, 2021)
- Dr. Tracy Waldeck Named Director of NIMH Division of Extramural Activities (November 10, 2021)
- Researchers Find Disparities in Suicide Risk Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults (November 9, 2021)
- NIH, FDA, and 15 Private Organizations Join Forces to Increase Effective Gene Therapies for Rare Diseases (October 29, 2021)
- Brain Activity Patterns After Trauma May Predict Long-Term Mental Health (October 14, 2021)
- NIH BRAIN Initiative Unveils Detailed Atlas of the Mammalian Primary Motor Cortex (October 6, 2021)
- Researchers Use Exosome-Based Strategy to Block HIV in Mice (September 21, 2021)
Please help us spread the word about NIMH-funded research! If you have a manuscript submitted for publication that describes an especially significant finding, please contact the NIMH Press Team at NIMHpress@nih.gov and notify your NIMH Program Official to discuss the possibility of a news release or other form of dissemination. NIMH has several methods for getting the word out: press releases, Institute updates, and social media. All releases and updates are posted to the Science News section of the NIMH website, distributed to the public through a mailing list, and posted on NIMH social media channels. Please also remember to acknowledge NIMH support of your research, for example, in journal articles (citing your NIMH award by number when possible) and other communications.
Explore research advances and ongoing research supported by or conducted at NIMH:
- Understanding the Characteristics of Suicide in Young Children (December 14, 2021)
- Genomic Data from More Than 41,000 People Shed New Light on Bipolar Disorder (September 29, 2021)
- A New Strength-Focused Framework to Prevent American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Suicide (September 23, 2021)
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