In August 2007, the Udall Center Program Evaluation Working Group of the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NANDS) Council released the following recommendations for the NINDS Udall Centers of Excellence in Parkinson's Disease:
In developing the implementation plan outlined below, NINDS sought input from the Udall Center director, the patient community and the NINDS advisory council. In addition, NINDS took into consideration current budgetary constraints. Overlap among various implementation strategies for specific recommendations is noted.
There is widespread consensus about the value of the Udall Centers Report recommendation to develop a committee that will promote cooperation and collaboration among the centers, promote translation of basic science findings into clinical applications, and promote training of future Parkinson's disease investigators. Therefore, the upcoming program announcement for the renewal of the Udall Centers program will require the center Directors to form a Udall Center Coordinating Committee (UCCC). All of the Directors will be asked to serve on the UCCC on a rotating basis, and the Chair will be a Director selected by the committee. The UCCC must also include several unaffiliated scientific experts in Parkinson's disease and related areas and representatives from the patient community and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to provide input and a broader perspective.
The NINDS also will seek periodic feedback on the progress of the Udall Centers and advice on future directions for the program from the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NANDS) Council. The UCCC will provide periodic updates/written reports to NANDS.
he Udall Report also recommended changes to the solicitation and review of center applications. Specifically, the NANDS working group recommended solicitation via a Request for Applications (RFA) so that all Udall applications could be reviewed at the same time in a dedicated study section assembled exclusively for that purpose. The NINDS has carefully considered both the pros and cons of using an RFA versus a Program Announcement (PA) to solicit Udall center applications. Although there are some advantages to a PA, including flexibility of submission date options, the NINDS agrees that implementation of an RFA, with set-aside funds and dedicated study section, is preferable and will promote long-term stability of the Udall Centers program.
Current efforts to improve the NIH peer review system, as well as the move toward electronic grant submission, may address the Working Group's concerns about the time lag between application submission and grant award. The implementation of these plans began in June 2008; further details are available at http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/
The NINDS will continue to encourage submission of Letters of Intent as recommended by the Working Group, although it cannot legally require them. Detailed letters of intent are encouraged, however, as submission of all new, revised and competing renewal applications over $500,000 direct costs require prior approval by the NINDS Extramural Science Committee (ESC). NINDS staff will continue to communicate with potential applicants in advance of submission and address the responsiveness of submitted applications to the solicitation. NINDS program staff will continue to be available to answer Center-specific questions prior to application submission. NINDS will hold pre-application teleconferences to address general questions and concerns from potential Udall Center applicants.
The Working Group requested addition of language to the Udall solicitations to allow pursuit of "unexpected scientific discoveries and paths should they arise." Because the P50 mechanism is a grant mechanism and not a cooperative agreement (U mechanism), Udall Center investigators are free to pursue novel paths within the scope of the Center Aims. Prior approval must be requested by the PI and reviewed by NINDS for any change to the scope of the application. Other novel opportunities can be pursued using existing mechanisms, such as the R21 and competitive supplements. Additional focus on the managerial expertise of the Center Director was also recommended and will be emphasized in the solicitation.
The Working Group recommended that each Center have an Administrator, separate from the Principal Investigator (Center Director) and Udall Center Investigators (Project/Core Directors). Center Administrators would be responsible for collecting standardized data on their Centers and for coordination of specific administrative functions. In the future, the Administrators would meet at the annual Centers meeting to discuss and propose ideas for improving Center management. The upcoming Program Announcement will invite Udall Center applicants to include an administrator position. Because of current budgetary constraints, NINDS will not be able at present increase the cap on the total funds provided to the Udall Centers.
The Center Directors will take the lead in redesigning the annual Udall meeting according to the Working Group's recommendations. Many of these recommendations were implemented for the 2007 meeting and will be continued in the future. For example, the Centers will take turns hosting the annual meeting. In addition, the Parkinson's Disease Data and Organizing Center (PD-DOC) has become an integral component of the annual meeting, which will promote more fluid interactions with the Centers. Distinguished outside speakers will be invited to speak on topics of general interest. Junior investigators will be encouraged to present their findings. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be invited to participate.
The Working Group recommended that NINDS provide a template for the progress reports submitted annually by the Udall Centers and require data on research discoveries, outreach and education efforts, and training outcomes. The NINDS cannot legally change the format of progress reports. However, the NINDS is exploring strategies to gather data on the research productivity of the Udall Centers, including publications. The NINDS will also request data on research discoveries, outreach and education activities, and training outcomes in competing renewal applications. UCCC participation in these efforts is anticipated.
The NINDS will continue to coordinate management of the Udall program with the broader Parkinson's disease portfolio. Dr. Beth-Anne Sieber will serve as the program director for the Udall centers program and the primary contact for all Parkinson's disease research at NINDS. Dr. Sieber will chair a working group of NINDS staff that will explore ways to coordinate the Udall Centers' activities with other Parkinson's research supported by NINDS.
The Working Group recommended that NINDS create a cross-discipline training program, fellowships for training at multiple Centers, and translational research training opportunities. NINDS funds a variety of training grants that the Udall Centers may be able to adapt to these purposes. NINDS staff will work with the Udall Center directors to identify opportunities to leverage existing NIH training programs. The UCCC may also explore the interest of their research trainees in a multi-Center training fellowship. A separate NINDS planning effort has identified the need for training in translational research and such an effort would be of significant benefit for Udall investigators and fellows.
The Working Group suggested several possible approaches for encouraging innovative research, pilot projects, translational research, and multidisciplinary projects. The NINDS is considering setting aside funds for special Udall Center projects and will work with the UCCC to determine the best mechanisms for soliciting and reviewing such projects.
The Udall Centers are also poised to take advantage of other funding opportunities at the NIH. The NIH has recently established new programs to support innovative research (e.g., EUREKA, Pioneer Awards, Transformative R01s). The Centers can also apply for competitive supplements for pilot projects and to special supplement programs involving collaborative multidisciplinary projects with a translational focus. NINDS staff will work with the Udall investigators to identify opportunities for translational research support through existing NINDS and NIH programs, as well as opportunities for the development of workshops and symposia.
The Working Group recommended that each Center develop an Outreach and Education Core to foster a stronger relationship with the Parkinson's disease community. Many of the Centers already have such cores or support outreach through other mechanisms. The Udall Center directors will be asked to explore this issue in more depth, including whether there is a substantial need for a required Core and whether this represents the best use of limited funds.
In summary, the NINDS is committed to continuing and enhancing the tradition of scientific excellence fostered by the Udall Centers and will continue efforts to strengthen the Udall program in coming years. The NINDS looks forward to working with the Udall Center Directors and the UCCC in these efforts.
Last updated May 21, 2012