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A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the NIH Roadmap: What’s in it For You?

Roadmap is a collection of 28 new research initiatives organized in three themes (Research Teams of the Future; New Pathways to Discovery; and Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise) that are intended to stimulate investment in crosscutting research areas that no one institute could fund on its own.

By Patricia Kobor

An initiative of NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, the Roadmap is a collection of 28 new research initiatives organized in three themes (Research Teams of the Future; New Pathways to Discovery; and Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise) that are intended to stimulate investment in crosscutting research areas that no one institute could fund on its own. Each institute and center at NIH has given 1 percent of its budget to a central pool to provide funds for these initiatives--a total of approximately $35 million for Fiscal Year 2005. The National Science Foundation has long had a trans-foundation pool of research funds, but this is the first time a formal program has been established at NIH.

Research psychologists can be confident that a number of the Roadmap initiatives are focused on or welcoming of behavioral research proposals. In many cases the Requests for Applications (RFAs) arising from Roadmap initiatives will be reviewed by Special Emphasis Panels rather than by standing NIH study sections.

The NIH web page contains a great deal of information about Roadmap initiatives. A description of the initiative areas can be found on the NIH website. One or more RFAs will be issued for each initiative. New initiatives are appearing daily so you should check the website often.

Behavioral Roadmap Initiatives: Under the theme "Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise," psychology is explicitly listed as one of the disciplines eligible for career support through the RFA for institutional support entitled, "Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Career Development Programs." According to the NIH Guide, "Career Development Programs supported under this RFA must include a broad representation of clinical disciplines and professions (e.g., internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, dentistry, pharmacy, statistics, nursing, psychology) and their various specialties and sub-specialties. Programs must include a structured core didactic component and a practical training component in various aspects of the design, conduct, and analysis of clinical research. Individuals should be trained in team research settings and will be known as NIH Clinical Research Scholars (CR Scholars)." The full RFA can be found on the NIH website.

Several initiatives are being coordinated by the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research in partnership with one or more NIH institutes. One example is a multidisciplinary research training initiative on Behavior, Environment and Biology that was posted on November 19, 2003. The RFA can be found on the NIH website. This institutional, postdoctoral National Research Training Award (NRSA) will support the establishment of programs that provide formal coursework and research training in a new interdisciplinary field to individuals holding advanced degrees in a different discipline. These training programs are required to include a behavioral or social science discipline, and programs are encouraged to integrate the behavioral and/or social sciences with the more traditional biomedical sciences. In particular, applicants are encouraged to develop programs that accept postdoctoral trainees with varied research backgrounds, and provide multiple tracks of research training that enhance each trainee's development of new, interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, while supporting opportunities for trainee interaction and research integration across the research tracks.

Another new Roadmap initiative is called "Dynamic Assessment of Patient-Reported Chronic Disease Outcomes." According to the NIH Guide, "This RFA seeks proposals for innovative approaches to measuring patient-reported outcomes (PROs) that will meet the needs of clinical researchers across a wide variety of chronic disorders and diseases. This RFA solicits two types of applications; (1) individual research proposals, with added concept proposals for network-wide collection of self-report data on specific domains of patient-reported outcomes, symptoms, or quality of life in large and diverse samples, and (2) proposals for a statistical coordinating center that will serve as a data repository, conduct analyses, and develop a computerized system to administer, collect, and report PRO data. The principal investigators of each project will become members of a network - Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS)- to be established immediately following award." The grants will be administered by the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases on behalf of the NIH. Letters of intent are due on February 22, 2004. The RFA may be found on the NIH website.

Drawing the Roadmap: When planning began in earnest for the NIH Roadmap in early 2003, behavioral and social scientists were initially concerned that the initiatives might largely exclude behavioral research. Psychologists and others at NIH worked hard to ensure that behavioral and social scientists were appointed to the trans-NIH working groups developing each of the initiatives, so that psychology and the other social science disciplines could have a voice in, and influence on, the process. APA's Chief Executive Officer Norman Anderson contacted several NIH institute directors personally to discuss the composition of the working groups and the conceptual framework for the Roadmap. As a result of all these efforts, the behavioral and social sciences stand to benefit along with the rest of NIH by an increased investment in trans-NIH research and renewed scientific infrastructure.

Virginia Cain, Acting Director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, has offered to be a point of contact for behavioral scientists with questions or concerns about the Roadmap proposals or processes. She can be reached at (301)402-1146 or via e-mail.