Last month, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s advisory council met to discuss changes to the institute’s programs and efforts to increase transparency in its funding strategy. In addition, the meeting included presentations on the institute’s implementation of research mandates for targeted muscular dystrophy research and updates on the institute’s intramural program.
Highlights from the meeting are below.
- Walter Koroshetz, director of the NINDS, presented on the institute’s funding allocations. Because of recent increases to the National Institutes of Health’s budget over the past three years, the NINDS is finally seeing an increase in its purchasing power. With increased funding, the institute has been able to increase the total number of research program grants awarded to institutions by 294 above 2014. The NINDS also has had a large uptick in funding for its career transition (K22), faculty development (K01) and diversity supplements awards. The institute also unveiled its new Blueprint D-SPAN (K99/K00) award to promote and retain diversity during the transition from graduate student to postdoc.
- The director highlighted the institute’s new Outstanding Investigator (R35) award as one of the its activities to support outstanding investigators for a longer term than is allowed in an R01 grant. The eight-year award allows for increased stability for researchers who would normally need to apply for grants every 3-5 years by providing $750,000 per year in direct costs with a requirement that awardees must spend 50 percent of their time conducting research. Additionally, the program restricts principal investigators from having other grants during the award.
- Koroshetz discussed the NINDS Special Council Review policy. This policy imposes an additional level of review for proposals submitted by investigators who are already receiving $1 million or more in support from the NIH. The policy is currently in effect for all new proposals, with exclusions for training, conference, core facilities, research resources, Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, and a small number of specialty funding opportunity announcement (e.g. BRAIN) proposals. The council will review the effect that this policy has on grantees with varying levels of institutional salary support. The council also will be addressing ways that the policy can better retain and support early-stage investigators.
- Amy Adams, director of the NINDS Office of Scientific Liaison, presented a proposal for a new web tool to increase the transparency of the institute’s funding strategy. Adams stressed that the institute’s policies historically have been separated from data on its website and therefore may not adequately represent the data-driven decision-making processes at the institute. Data — such as the institute’s budget, funding policies, funding outcomes, and analyses — will be more readily accessible by the public. A council member suggested that it would be helpful to present the agency’s policies for funding in context over time and include metrics that investigators care most about like that of paylines. The target audience for this new web tool will include the research community, the public, advocacy organizations and professional societies. A timeline for the revised website was not presented. The institute’s funding strategy for fiscal year 2018 is available
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology provided a written comment to the NINDS council. We suggested that NINDS adopt policies in support of the Next Generation of Researchers Imitative recommendations being produced by the Advisory Committee to the Director and increase data transparency. Read the full statement here.
View the full meeting recording here.