Panel on rehabilitation research reports to the NICHD advisory council

According to the panel’s review, NCMRR is meeting its mission but obstacles remain, including a lack of coordination of rehabilitation research across agencies and difficulty in maintaining funding for newly funded scientists

At the June 7 NICHD advisory council, Director Alan Guttmacher and council members heard a report from Rebecca Craik, who co-chaired the Blue Ribbon Panel on Medical Rehabilitation Research, formed last year by NIH Director Francis Collins. Craik presented the panel’s recommendations regarding the role of the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR). The panel focused on whether the NCMRR is accomplishing its mission and whether there are ways to maximize the coordination and outcomes of investments in rehabilitation research across the NIH. According to the panel’s review, NCMRR is meeting its mission but obstacles remain, including a lack of coordination of rehabilitation research across NIH, NIDRR, VA, DoD and NSF, and difficulty in maintaining funding for newly funded scientists. The panel recommendations include:

  1. A new definition of rehabilitation research;

  2. Development of a trans-NIH research plan with periodic review of the plan; 

  3. Strategic networking with other institute staff and experts in the rehabilitation community;

  4. Changing the center name to the National Center for Rehabilitation Research, removing “medical” from the title;

  5. Increasing the clinical and societal relevance of the research portfolio;

  6. A substantial increase in funding for all aspects of rehabilitation research;

  7. Continuing to build research capacity;

  8. An increase in the participation of people with disabilities and public advocates in the development and implementation of the research plan.

The panel made additional functional and structural recommendations that would move the NCMRR into the Office of the NIH Director, where it would operate similarly to the Office of AIDS Research, which has independent budget and grant-making authority as well as a strong coordination role across the NIH. A full report will be submitted to Guttmacher and Collins, and Guttmacher assured Council that further informal conversations would be held about how to implement any of the recommendations and develop practical solutions to maximize NIH’s investments in rehabilitation research. As Guttmacher mentioned, it would take an act of Congress for the NCMRR to move out of the NICHD and Congress would decide what to do with the level of appropriations for rehabilitation research, but there may be other ways to address the panel’s other recommendations.