I recently had the opportunity to hear NIMH Director Tom Insel give a presentation of current and upcoming NIMH funding priorities. He referred to the charge of the most recent NIHM Strategic Plan which lists four major categories.
* Promote discovery in the brain and behavioral sciences to fuel research on the causes of mental disorders
* Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene
* Develop new and better interventions that incorporate the diverse needs and circumstances of people with mental illnesses
* Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research
Okay this sounds like normal translational stuff, right? The question is always to determine how committed a given IC is to the theme. NIMH appears to be quite committed indeed.
In the course of Insel's presentation he made some interesting remarks about how his goal was to convince the investigators to get on board. By moving the NIMH dollars into more solicited (by RFA) proposals. He said that in the past they had about 8% of their grant dollars in solicited projects. The new target is to be 20-25% of the budget. Big change. When asked by a question how NIMH would be working with extramural researchers to smooth the transition, Insel said "Well, we're already doing it for 2008 its just that we didn't make a big deal of it."
Bring it NIMH!
Other fun comments:
The new mission statement includes the term "cure". Brave stuff indeed to suggest our goal should be to "cure" schizophrenia, ADHD, major depression and the like. Bravo.
Did you know that NIMH was founded in 1947 by Truman explicitly to deal with "combat neurosis"? I did not know that. Obviously Insel is anticipating a return to roots in the near future.
When asked if the shift to 20-25% solicited research was going to backfire by stifling innovation, Insel dodged and weaved a bit but ultimately scored points with the observation that study sections were inherently anti-innovation. "If all the people on the panel agree a grant is good...almost by definition it is not innovative". And he alleged that each and every Council round under his watch the "grants in the 15-25%ile range have the greatest ideas" and the "0-10%ile grants are not that innovative". Whoa.
Insel was asked about the tension between his calls for bench to bedside and bedside to practice translation and the conflict of interest scandals associated with the Grassley investigations. He responded that NIH was trying to get more authority to make rules for NIH grantees. Interesting. Of course with what we know about the most egregious cases the allegation is that the scientists in question were already failing to follow the existing disclosure requirements of their institutions. So what are new rules going to do?