From the Science Directorate

NIH Director meets with APA’s Anderson and Science Directorate

Elias Zerhouni has been director of the National Institutes of Health for about six months, but already he’s met twice with the APA leadership. The first meeting was in a coalition of behavioral and social science organizations at the end of October (see PSA reference…what issue?) In January he met for a wide-ranging discussion with APA’s new CEO, Norman Anderson and senior staff from the Science Directorate and Public Policy Office.

Anderson embraced the opportunity to explain APA’s programs and priorities to the director of NIH. He particularly emphasized his goal to make psychology more useful in the ‘real world.’ Zerhouni asked questions about the training, income and debt burden of scientific and practicing psychologists, remarking that psychologists seem to experience the same pressures as other NIH constituent scientists in deciding whether to specialize in research or practice.

Dr. Zerhouni encouraged APA to step into the forefront of efforts to improve U.S. health. He cited the growing rates of obesity in the U.S. in all age ranges, and mentioned how a concerted effort by psychologists to help people change behavior could be helpful. He also spoke about the problem of medical error, and mentioned that he feels behavioral research is the key to minimizing errors by health care providers. He is conscious of moving quickly in his job to areas where NIH focus can bring results.

“It’s clear Dr. Zerhouni is brings strong management and scientific skills to NIH,” said Norman Anderson. “He is focused on moving NIH forward in areas that depend on behavioral research—elimination of minority health disparities, for example, and healthy behavior change.”

“Dr. Zerhouni’s focus on health-oriented results includes a strong emphasis on basic research,” said Kurt Salzinger, Executive Director for Science. “He refers to the spectrum as ‘original research’ and ‘derivative research,’ and doesn’t attempt to emphasize one end of the spectrum over the other.”

“We were pleased to observe that Dr. Zerhouni has such a good working relationship with the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and Dr. Kington, the director,” said Merry Bullock, APA’s Associate Executive Director for Science. “He clearly relies on the Office for information and support. It’s the role we hoped and expected the Office would play when it was created.”

Raynard Kington, the director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and Ruth Kirschstein, Senior Adviser to the NIH Director, attended the meeting. Shortly afterward, Dr. Zerhouni announced that Dr. Kington would replace Dr. Kirschstein as Deputy Director of NIH (see sidebar).

APA Presents Testimony at Institute of Medicine Meeting on NIH Center Grants

APA was the only behavioral science organization scheduled to testify at a February 7, 2003 meeting of the Institute of Medicine’s Board of Health Sciences Policy subcommittee examining NIH center grants. The purpose of the meeting was to examine the value of center grants in comparison with other grant mechanisms, especially the investigator-initiated (R01) grant.

Merry Bullock, Associate Executive Director for Science, gave the testimony on behalf of APA. The APA statement was written with input from the Board of Scientific Affairs, its Committee on Scientific Awards, and the executive committees of several divisions.

In response to the APA request for comments, scientists expressed disparate views about the value of center grants. Some commented that center grants waste scarce resources by protecting mediocre science under the umbrella of the best science in a center. Others pointed out that the administrative core funding in centers provides an important environment for multidisciplinary research efforts, which are particularly needed in investigations of complex phenomena such as gene-environment interactions or health-related behavior change.

“The hallmark of NIH-funded research is excellence, and …NIH needs multiple ways to foster excellence. Sometimes science is best served when its caretakers merely recognize excellence in a grant proposal and let it flourish unencumbered. Sometimes a measure of coordination, whether directed by NIH, scientists in the field, or even Congress, sparks new conversations and connections between scientists and adds value and company to a lone good idea,” Bullock said.

APA’s statement contained several recommendations for strengthening the center grant mechanism. First, NIH needs to collect more data about centers. It was not possible to pull data to show how many people had been trained through center grants vs. other grant mechanisms, for example. Second, leadership is a critical component in the success or failure of a center, and NIH needs additional ways to build leadership skills in its grantees and to review for leadership skills in the peer review process. Third, NIH needs greater flexibility to manage center grants, including funds to conduct site visits. Site visits were more common ten years ago than today. APA also recommended that NIH explore the concept of a new grant type, the R01-Plus, that would help bridge the large gap between investigator-initiated grants and center grants by providing some administrative or core support funding to an R01 grant.

APA member Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob, Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh and herself a center director, testified on behalf of the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). Dr. Dunbar-Jacob is a member of the NINR Advisory Council. She pointed out ways that NINR has used relatively small center grants to help train nurse researchers to work in multidisciplinary environments.

Among the APA scientists who contributed their thoughts and expertise to this issue were Ken Sher, Ph.D. of the University of Missouri-Columbia; Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University; David Barlow of Boston University; Karen Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; David Abrams of Brown University; Nora Newcombe of Temple University; Denise Park of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Neil Schneiderman of the University of Miami School of Medicine; Ed Wasserman of the University of Iowa; Michael Scheier of Carnegie Mellon University; Norman Anderson, CEO of APA; and Kurt Salzinger, Merry Bullock, and Geoff Mumford of the APA staff.

The Institute of Medicine subcommittee on centers will issue its report in 2004. More information is available at www.iom.edu/centers.