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Director's Message

Recovery Act, Peer Review Enhancements, and Stem Cell Guidelines

photo of NINDS Director, Dr. Story Landis

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided the NIH with $10.4 billion to stimulate the U.S. economy.  Of these funds, approximately $400 million was allocated to the NINDS.  The NIH has begun implementation of the enhancements to its peer review process, starting with a new scoring system and format for summary statements. Final guidelines for stem cell research were announced on July 6 and implementation is underway.  These measures are intended to not only create and retain jobs, but also to accelerate the pace of biomedical research and to improve the quality of that research as well.   There are two new additions to NINDS senior leadership:  Dr. William Matthew has joined NINDS as the Director the Office of Translational Research and Dr. Petra Kaufmann as the Director of the Office of Clinical Research. 

NINDS and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

As you know, $10.4 billion has been allocated to the NIH through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to participate in stimulating the economy by creating jobs and funding high quality research.  To implement the ARRA, NIH announced a number of funding opportunities. While the receipt dates for most of these have passed, additional announcements   ( ) will be released in the next month.

We know that many of you are interested in how NINDS will use the approximately $400 million in stimulus funding that we received. What follows is a brief summary of our current plans for funding. NIH awards that have already been made can be viewed on . Most of the funds will be committed by September 30, 2009. Please continue to check our website where we will post more information as it becomes available.

Our current strategy includes:

  1. Funding particularly meritorious grant applications consistent with the goals of the ARRA
    • We will use at least half of our allocation to fund high quality applications (including R01s, R21s, R03s, and R15s) that were reviewed recently but not selected for funding. We selected meritorious applications that will contribute to the economic stimulus by creating or retaining jobs and accelerating the pace of scientific research. Applications were chosen for funding based on the reviewers' comments and the potential to achieve a subset of the project's goals in 2 years. The majority of applications had scores corresponding to percentiles between our current payline (the 11.0th percentile) and approximately the 25.0th percentile. Many were selected from the pool of applications normally awarded with fiscal year 2009 funds - those from the September 2008, January 2009, and May 2009 Council rounds but we have also included  applications from the September 2009 Council round.
  2. 2 year ARRA R01s were not awarded to new investigators. NINDS is already planning to fund most new PI R01s within this percentile range (as we did last year) and we would prefer that new PIs receive the longer terms of funding requested in their applications.

  3. Participating in the trans-NIH targeted supplement programs
    • NINDS is funding three types of supplement programs
      • Administrative Supplements for research that falls within the scope of an NINDS-funded project
      • Administrative supplements to foster Summer Research experience
      • Competitive Revisions (formerly called Competitive Supplements) for research that falls outside the scope of an NINDS funded project.

  4. Participating in the trans-NIH Challenge Grant program

  5. Supporting New Faculty Recruitment
    • The NINDS will budget up to $1 million (up to $500,000 per year) over a two-year project period to fund recruitment of outstanding investigators into tenure track or tenured positions in basic, translational and clinical neuroscience.
    • The NINDS expects to make up at least 13 in FY 2009, with total funding of approximately $20 million over the two year period.

  6. Participating in the trans-NIH Research and Research Infrastructure Grand Opportunities ("GO") Grants program
    • NINDS "GO" Grants
      The purpose of the "GO" grants program is to support high impact ideas that lend themselves to short-term, non-renewable funding and may lay the foundation for new fields of investigation. Applicants could propose to address a specific research question or to create a unique infrastructure/resource designed to accelerate scientific progress in the future.

Peer Review Enhancements

The NIH has a long history of supporting the most promising and worthy research.  While the world-renowned peer review system is the cornerstone of NIH, the increasing span, complexity, and interdisciplinary nature of modern research has created many challenges to the system.  To address these challenges, the NIH initiated an effort to formally review its system of peer review using a two-phase process:  diagnostic (phase I) and implementation (phase II).  The overall goal of this formal review is to ensure that NIH funds the best science, by the best scientists with the least amount of administrative burden. 

The diagnostic phase, which ended in March 2008, produced several recommendations including:

  • To reduce the administrative burden on applicants, rviewers, and NIH staff
  • To enhance the rating system, and the quality of the review, and the reviewers
  • To optimize support for different career stages and types, and for different types of and approaches to science
  • To reduce the stress on the support system of science
  • To meet the need for continuous review and evaluation of the peer review system

The NIH is currently in phase II—the implementation phase—during which phase I recommendations will be realized.  Already there have been changes to review and scoring such as placing more emphasis on impact and less on technical details.  The system now encourages succinct, well-focused critiques that evaluate, rather than describe, applications, and the use of the entire rating scale.  Also already in place are new policies on resubmissions, new investigators and early stage investigators, scoring of individual core criteria and overall impact/priority, and restructured summary statements.  Upcoming enhancements will include the restructuring of grant applications including changes in application length, improvements in the quality and transparency of the reviews, and methods to ensure balanced and fair reviews across scientific fields and career stages.

Stem Cell Guidelines

In March 2009, President Barack H. Obama issued Executive Order 13505: Removing Barriers to Responsible Scientific Research Involving Human Stem Cells—allowing for the support and conduct of responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research.

Recently, NIH released guidelines establishing policy and procedures under which the NIH will fund such research, and helping to ensure that NIH-funded research in this area is ethically responsible, scientifically worthy, and conducted in accordance with the law. .

Before finalizing the guidelines, the NIH received approximately 49,000 comments from patient advocacy groups, scientists and scientific societies, academic institutions, medical organizations, religious organizations, and private citizens. The NIH also received comments from members of Congress. The final guidelines were made effective on July 7, 2009.

Last updated December 23, 2013