In his March 26th testimony to the House Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations, Ray Kington (Acting NIH Director) expressed his gratitude for the $10.4B in stimulus funding and the whooping 3.2% increase in the FY09 appropriation. He shares a heart-warming story of stimulus funds already saving the economy (excerpt from an e-mail to an IC director):
“Forgot to say that we gave a termination letter last Friday to my longtime (5 years) postdoc. His job has been saved. He is going to be thrilled to hear about his change in fortune! I also would like to hire a technician with the new funds, since at present I do not have one.”
An NIH-funded researcher with a post-doc but no lab tech? Never mind.
First, I’ll jump ahead to as-yet un-announced opportunities:
NIH will identify a number of Signature Initiatives that will support exceptionally creative and innovative projects and programs—and potentially transformative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research. The initiatives will cover new scientific opportunities in nanotechnology, genome-wide association studies, health disparities, arthritis, diabetes, autism, the genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, regenerative medicine, oral fluids as biomarkers, and HIV vaccine research.
Each IC is developing at least one Signature Initiative, and a number will be done in partnership across ICs and/or the Office of the NIH Director. The areas being developed include an Office of the Director-led set of catalytic awards to enhance community-based research efforts to ensure that we are able to reach segments of our Nation that are too often overlooked in clinical research.
In addition, considerable investment is expected to be made to understand the genetics of a wide range of specific diseases and conditions, as well as second generation “deep DNA sequencing” of very large and well-defined national patient cohorts to identify disease causing genetic variants that may express at low frequencies but cause greater effect. An initiative to modify disease risk based on genome-wide association findings is also being planned. Complementing this will be initiatives to accelerate biomarker discovery and validation.
Also still to come, per Kington’s testimony, is an AREA (R15) FOA.
So, what priorities does Kington flag among the existing opportunities?
… we are scrutinizing the 14,000 grant applications we received in our last round of review—applications that were already deemed highly meritorious and approved by Advisory Councils at each Institute and Center—applications that, despite their merit, we could not fund before. We are now identifying and planning to fund those scientifically meritorious applications for two years, where the scientific plan is appropriate for a 2-year award instead of the usual 4-year award. Also, every Institute and Center is identifying scientific priorities that can be funded through administrative supplements. Administrative supplements will allow for accelerating the progress of a promising grant, typically by adding support for postdoctoral scientists and graduate students and key pieces of equipment.
… I will highlight only a few examples of the Challenge Grant topics that could be further explored:
- New advances in biosensors and lab-on-chip technology to create novel ways to measure the body burden and sub-clinical health effects of emerging contaminants in the environment in large study populations. Additional research funds could support field testing of the most promising sensors and analysis techniques through collaboration with existing epidemiologic studies taking advantage of both new and banked tissue specimens.
- There is increasing evidence that suggests that HIV-1 infected individuals experience similar immunologic changes as the uninfected elderly. This may be due to persistent stimulation of the immune cells. It is not clear whether antiretroviral therapy can reverse this process. Research will aim to compare the effectiveness of different treatment regimens in reversing or preventing accelerated aging that appears in the immune and other body systems.
- Studies are needed to assess the impact and ethical considerations of conducting biomedical and clinical research internationally in resource-limited countries.
- Studies on ethical issues in health disparities and access to participation in research is needed to assess the under-representation in biomedical and clinical research of U.S. minority populations, underserved populations, and populations who may be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence; and to identify barriers to participation in research and to develop approaches for overcoming them.
- Pain research has been greatly hampered by the unreliable nature of self-report based instruments, where we rely on the person in pain to tell us about their condition, which can be highly subjective. The establishment of objective, affordable and reliable pain biomarkers and measurements would advance our understanding of pain mechanisms, provide a basis for improved clinical management of pain, help assess an individual’s risk for becoming addicted to opiate analgesics, and establish much needed objective measures of treatment success or failure.
- Development of novel approaches for delivering combined diagnostic and therapeutic agents to appropriate disease sites with high specificity and in adequate concentrations to realize the promise of combined diagnosis and treatment of diseases in a single sitting, hence the hybrid term, “theranostics.”
… We are particularly delighted to tell you about our expanded summer program for teachers and students across America. Funds will provide short-term summer jobs for high school and undergraduate students—as well as elementary, middle, high school and community college science educators in laboratories around the country—work that will not only provide summer income, but will also provide several thousand young people with the opportunity to experience the world of research, and I hope will spark their desire to become scientists.
He does address the administrative supplements and Grand Opportunities, though not in so much detail, plus a brief passing mention to the competitive revisions.
And something to keep in mind when you’re doing your budget: “A study indicates that, on average, every NIH grant supports 6 to 7 in-part or full scientific jobs.” In-part? For jobs that are only partly scientific?