An Interview with Emmeline Edwards, PhD, Director of Extramural Research at the NINDS Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience Program

In Fiscal Year 2006, the National Institutes of Health received its smallest budget increase since the mid-1960s—one half of one percent—and actually saw its budget cut after a 1% across-the-board cut was applied. How is that affecting research funding and programs at the institutes that fund behavioral research?

In Fiscal Year 2006, the National Institutes of Health received its smallest budget increase since the mid-1960s—one half of one percent—and actually saw its budget cut after a 1% across-the-board cut was applied. How is that affecting research funding and programs at the institutes that fund behavioral research? Is there any good news amidst the bad? APA's Science Policy Office put the following questions to several institute officials and program officers. In this issue, Emmeline Edwards, PhD, Director of Extramural Research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, responds. Earlier this year the Psychological Science Agenda published interviews with officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Aging, and the National Cancer Institute.

How is the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Behavioral & Cognitive Neuroscience Program being affected by the very lean budget in Fiscal Year 2006?

Each year, the NINDS establishes a set of funding plans based on the appropriations received from Congress. The NINDS funding strategy for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 is posted on our website. In 2006, the NINDS will fund applications that score up through the 12.0 percentile. We anticipate that about 21 percent of all eligible competing Research Proposal Grants and Center applications will be funded this year. This overall success rate includes applications in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience.

Has the number of grant applications to the NINDS been affected by the budget?

Just as the NINDS budget was leveling after the years of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget doubling, the demand for grant funding has increased. We have experienced an increase in the number of applications received in FY 06. While budget funds are tighter, the NINDS continues to be the largest funder of neuroscience at the NIH. In addition, NINDS researchers are encouraged to fully maximize their funding potential by competing in the NIH Roadmap and Neuroscience Blueprint initiatives.

Are there new areas of research emphasis at your institute for psychologists?

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is to reduce the burden of neurological disorders by conducting and supporting research on the normal and diseased nervous system. The NINDS supports a broad portfolio of basic and clinical behavioral research. This includes:

  • Basic studies of the neural bases of cognition and behavior such as: the relationship between challenging environments or exercise and growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis); how learning affects the way brain cells connect and communicate with each other; the ability of the spinal cord to "learn" to move limbs after it is severed; and how social signals (vocalizations, facial expressions) are processed in the primate brain.

  • Interventions designed to ameliorate the symptoms of some neurological disorders such as: the acquisition of motor skills for rehabilitation; transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex to enhance behavioral therapy or biofeedback to control headache, neuropathy, and low back pain; a stroke public education campaign designed to shorten the time between symptom onset and tPA treatment for better outcomes; brain-computer and brain-machine interfaces (e.g., deep brain stimulators, vagal nerve stimulators, and neuroprosthetics) to treat movement, communication and seizure disorders.

  • Clinical studies of the adverse effects of neurological disease on cognitive and behavioral functioning such as: the effect of deep brain stimulation on executive function in patients with neurological disorders; how the brain functions after injury and during recovery in patients with neurological disorders; and whether signals on the opposite side of the brain help or hinder recovery after stroke.

Other areas of interest include:

  • Neuroscience-based strategies for cognitive rehabilitation in persons with brain injury, stroke, and other neurologically impaired conditions.

  • Relationship between neurophysiology, cognition, and behavior in neurodevelopmental disorders.

  • Development of approaches for optimal maintenance of cognitive and emotional health (view the website).

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) as therapeutic approaches for patients with neurological disorders (ex, use of real-time fMRI output as potential brain signals to drive BCIs and treat patients with painful neuropathy; teach them to use their brain signals to control artificial limbs and cursors on computer screens to communicate).

  • Brain Machine Interfaces (BMIs) - the development and application of electrodes that can record, amplify, or generate brain signals.

Are there training or retraining mechanisms at the NINDS that psychologists should take more advantage of?

The NINDS participates in the new NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) and anticipates funding up to 12 awards per year. This initiative will develop and implement a new Pathway to Independence Award Program (PI) designed to facilitate receiving an R01 award earlier in an investigator's research career. The primary, long-term goal of the PI Award Program is to increase and maintain a strong cohort of new and talented, NIH-supported independent investigators. The Pathway to Independence Award provides up to five years of support consisting of two phases. The initial phase will provide 1-2 years of mentored support for highly promising, postdoctoral research scientists. This phase will be followed by up to 3 years of independent support contingent on securing an independent research position. Award recipients will be expected to compete successfully for independent R01 support from the NIH during the career transition award period. The PI Award is limited to postdoctoral trainees who propose research relevant to the mission of one or more of the participating NIH Institutes and Centers (view the website).

In 2005, the NINDS instituted a Mentored Research and Clinical Scientist Development Awards in Translational Research. Recent discoveries in the neurosciences offer promising opportunities for improved therapies for neurological disorders. As part of its mission to reduce the burden of neurological disease, the NINDS is committed to encouraging the "translation" of these basic discoveries into new treatments. PAR-05-160 invites applications for a career development award to enable investigators to build a program of translational research in neurological disorders under the guidance of an experienced mentor (visit the training website).

In addition, the NINDS is one of the lead Institutes for the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research. In 2006, the NIH Blueprint has developed various training initiatives including training programs in translational research in neurobiology of diseases; training programs in Neuroimaging, and training programs in computational neuroscience. In the upcoming year, the NIH Blueprint will fund interdisciplinary training at the postdoctoral level that would require fellows to have mentors in two areas that are traditionally distinct, but which promise to contribute new insight for understanding and treating neurodegenerative disorders. A similar interdisciplinary program for senior investigators would provide short-term awards to established scientists for research training in a laboratory from a different discipline in order to foster new approaches (view the website).

What can psychologists do to improve their chances of being funded?

Our message to the neuroscience community as a whole is to contact the extramural program staffs in order to better assess how NINDS' priorities fit their research interests. In addition, potential applicants should also become familiar with the priorities articulated by the NIH Roadmap and the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint.