Archive for the ‘biomedical research’ Tag

New Webinar: “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications”

In an effort to provide cost-effective training to the broadest group possible, I am launching a series of webinars in the upcoming months. The first of these will be in early February, and the goal will be to help grantees recognize and correct common submission mistakes.

Unlike many who conduct NIH submission training programs, I myself work on NIH submissions full time. I see clients make the same types of mistakes repeatedly– mistakes that are easily avoided.

Each year I am fortunate to have dozens of clients share their Summary Statements with me. Because I regularly read reviewer comments from a multitude of study sections, I can easily identify trends in pink sheets. I also keep track of evolving trends at NIH based on information I find in FOAs, Notices, and Appropriations Testimony. Study sections change, funding priorities evolve. It is important to understand NIH’s priorities right now.

I have helped clients land over $200 million in federal funds in the past five years. Your NIH submission will entail several hundred hours of work by you and others. Why not learn strategies to optimize your success on this and future submissions?

What: Webinar entitled “Mistakes Commonly Made on NIH Grant Applications

Who: Ideal for faculty preparing to submit a K, R21, R03, or R01 in an upcoming cycle, and the senior faculty and administrators who advise them.

When:Wednesday 4 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST or
Thursday 12 February 2015, 11am-12:30pm EST
Cost: $149
Takeaways: At the end of this 90-minute session, participants will be able to:
1) Predict some key criticisms reviewers may make
2) Identify problems in their or their colleague’s draft applications
3) Utilize that information to write stronger drafts

Ketamine — A New Drug Treatment For Depression?


Credit: Koratmember at

Remember ketamine, the old veterinary (and sometimes street) drug? Apparently it rapidly and significantly reduces anhedonia in those with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, according to a new study.

Anhedonia, which is a lack of interest in activities that once gave a person pleasure, is a key feature of treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. According to a recent NIH-funded clinical trial, ketamine restored pleasure-seeking behavior independent of its other antidepressant properties in these patients. What’s more, it did so about 40 minutes after a single infusion, and the effect lasted as long as 14 days.

To me the most interesting part of this study is that ketamine did not act on the midbrain areas typically involved in depressive symptoms. Rather, PET scans on patients in the depressive phase of bipolar disorder showed that after ketamine infusion, there was activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). This region lies deep within the brain, resting on the medial surface of the frontal lobes. Its precise role remains somewhat elusive, though it is thought to govern conscious control of goal-directed behavior. The most recent significant study I could find on its function was a 2012 paper in Nature suggesting that the dACC is involved in optimizing behavioral adaptations to continuously evolving demands by predicting the difficulty of a task.

“Our findings help to deconstruct what has traditionally been lumped together as depression,” explained Carlos Zarate, M.D., of NIMH. “We break out a component that responds uniquely to a treatment that works through different brain systems than conventional antidepressants — and link that response to different circuitry than other depression symptoms.”

Imaging studies similar to the one just published are underway in patients with major depression, though results are not yet available. Other studies have suggested that ketamine may be exerting these effects through glutamate and dopamine pathways. Research is underway to explore easier methods of drug delivery, such as nasal spray.

Of late, ketamine has been studied for its rapid antidepressant properties, providing relief within hours rather than the weeks required for traditional medications to work. At present, ketamine is not FDA approved for treatment of depression and it is still used primarily in a veterinary setting.

Ketamine is an NMDA receptor antagonist, though it also inhibits reuptake of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It was developed in 1962 and has been used in both humans and animals. It is categorized as a dissociative agent. It has been used for general anesthesia, sedation, and as a pain killer. Side effects include amnesia and agitation, and its street use has led to hallucinations, delirium, and death.

NIH Awards $31M To Increase Diversity in The Biomedical Research Workforce

Credit: Photokanok at

Credit: Photokanok at

In late October, NIH issued a news release stating that it will award $31 million to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce in FY14. The award will go to over 50 recipients who will be part of the national Diversity Program Consortium, established to engage researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. Award recipients work at geographically diverse institutions across the country that serve underrepresented communities. Members of the consortium will develop, implement, and evaluate methods for encouraging individuals to pursue careers in biomedical research and remain in this field.

Research shows that economic, social, and cultural factors significantly influence the pursuit of science careers. Dr. Hannah Valentine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, asserts, “These awards represent a significant step toward ensuring that NIH’s future biomedical research workforce will reflect the unique perspectives found within the diverse composition of our society.”

The Diversity Program Consortium is part of a five-year plan with three major initiatives. The goal of the first initiative, BUILD, is to explore new approaches to attract students from diverse backgrounds to the biomedical science workforce. The goal of the second initiative, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), is to develop best practices for mentoring individuals from underrepresented groups. Finally, work carried out as part of the Coordination and Evaluation Center is designed to assess the effectiveness of the training and mentoring approaches developed by BUILD and NRMN. It will also establish short- and long-term methods for measuring the effectiveness of both training and mentoring programs.

World RePORT: A Worldwide Health Research Database

Credit: Stuart Miles at

Credit: Stuart Miles at

An article recently published in the September 12th issue of  Science discusses the necessity of creating a global map of    health R&D activities. The goal is to improve coordination  of research and create a “global observatory” for health research.

The Science article states, “How to finance research and   development where normal market forces are absent has been the focus of a number of studies organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), culminating in 2012 with a report that assessed the strengths and weaknesses of more than 100 new financing mechanisms (1). One of the issues that became clear in compiling this report was the absence of good data. There is no global health R&D map that provides a comprehensive picture of research funding, ongoing research, and results that could be used to guide the allocation of the limited available funding. Consequently, the member states of WHO have called for the establishment of a global observatory on health R&D to address this lack of information (2).”

While a truly comprehensive global health observatory is still years away, the World Health Organization recently created a database, the World Research -Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (World RePORT), which constitutes an important first step toward this goal. Released last year, the beta version of World RePORT was initially limited to research conducted in sub-Saharan Africa. However since then, a new funding organization has been added (the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership; EDCTP) and coverage has been expanded to include NIH projects funded in 2013 and projects emanating from South Asia and East Asia/Pacific regions of the world.

As existing funders update the database with projects funded in 2013 across this expanded set of regions, the hope is that the database will help researchers build more effective networks and allow governments and donors to invest their time and money more strategically. Complete information from all ten current funders, as well as information on new organizations joining the World RePORT, will be available on the site soon.

As to the question of funding, the article explains: “As with many WHO projects of this type, it is a new activity and will require new and additional funding outside of its existing budget. A conservative estimate is that $11.5 million will be needed in the first 5 years to cover project staff and software development and to build capacity in those countries (the majority) that do not report health R&D data.”

NIH Funding to Study Sex as a Fundamental Variable in Clinical Research

Credit: Photokanok at

Credit: Photokanok at

I am popping up from my mountain of R01 drafts to bring attention to an important NIH news release. Yesterday, NIH announced it has devoted over $10 million in supplemental funding for 82 grantees to explore sex differences in their clinical and pre-clinical research.

The news release states, “These awards are the latest round of funding in a program described in a May 2014 Nature commentary by [Janine Austin Clayton, M.D., NIH associate director for women’s health research] and NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. This commentary informed NIH grantees and other stakeholders of the agency’s intent to develop policies that will require applicants to address the influence of sex in the design and analysis of biomedical research with animals and cells.”

The news release states that the goal of the supplements is to serve as “…a catalyst for considering sex as a fundamental variable in research.”

NIH began this program in FY13, initially funding 50 supplements ($4.6 million total.) The initiative has been led by the Office of Research on Women’s Health. Most of the NIH ICs have funded supplements since the inception of the program.

Historically, medical research has been conducted predominantly on white male subjects. NIH has made efforts to expand the scope of clinical research to include both sexes and to represent multiple races and ethnicities. Grantees who want to succeed in the NIH arena would be wise to incorporate such variables into current and future studies.



Update on the New NIH Biosketch Format

Credit: adamr at

Credit: adamr at

There are changes pending for the NIH biosketch format, and I think it is good news for NIH grantees. The new NIH biosketch format will allow up to five pages for the entire biosketch, as opposed to the current four-page limit. Even better, rather than simply listing publications, the new format will give researchers the opportunity to highlight the magnitude and significance of the scientific advances associated with their discoveries and the specific role they played in those findings.

Grantees will be permitted to describe up to five of their most significant contributions to science, the influence of their contributions on their scientific field, and any subsequent effects of these contributions on the fields of medicine or technology. This will help reviewers better focus on the applicant’s most important contributions to science. Researchers also will be able to include a link to their complete list of publications in SciENcv or My Bibliography.

NIH recently launched a new round of pilot tests (here and here) to make sure the new format will work well for both applicants and reviewers. The pilot will involve surveys of both reviewers and applicants to help NIH fine tune the application instructions and guidance to reviewers. NIH plans to roll out the modified biosketch for all grant applications received for FY 2016 funding and beyond (which generally refers to applications submitted in early 2015).

To learn more about the NIH’s new Biosketch format click *here*


NIH Commits to 12-Year Plan for BRAIN Initiative

Credit: Koratmember at

Credit: Koratmember at

Last month a federal report was released calling for $4.5 billion in funding for brain research over the next 12 years. On June 5th, 2014 the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was presented to NIH Director Francis Collins by his Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). The report, drafted by the ACD BRAIN Working Group, maps out a sustained commitment of $4.5 billion in new federal funding over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016, to achieve seven primary goals (see bullets below).

NIH has already announced an investment of $40 million in fiscal year 2014 and President Obama has made a request for $100 million for NIH’s component of the initiative in his fiscal year 2015 budget. The working group emphasized in its report that its cost estimates assume that the budget for the BRAIN Initiative will supplement — not supplant — NIH’s existing investment in the broader spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research.

The NIH efforts on the BRAIN Initiative will focus on mapping the circuits of the brain, measuring the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits, and understanding how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities.

The following seven scientific goals were identified as high priorities for achieving this vision:

  • Identify and provide experimental access to the different brain cell types to determine their roles in health and disease.
  • Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
  • Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.
  • Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
  • Produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.
  • Develop innovative technologies to understand the human brain and treat its disorders; create and support integrated brain research networks.
  • Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in the other goals to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.

The BRAIN Initiative is jointly led by NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and Food and Drug Administration. Private organizations are also committed to ensuring success through investment in the initiative.

About the ACD:

The ACD advises the NIH Director on policy matters important to the NIH mission of conducting and supporting biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and translating research results for the public. For more information on the ACD and the full agenda of this meeting, visit:



Seven-Year, Multi-Center Clinical Trial Award 2014

Credit: terapun at

Credit: Teerapun at FreeDigitalPhotos. net

Meg Bouvier Medical Writing is pleased to announce that our client has been awarded a seven-year Cooperative Agreement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The team, working at four participating medical centers, will conduct clinical trials to accelerate the discovery of treatments for critically ill patients. The work will be conducted as part of a highly prestigious, multidisciplinary clinical research consortium at NIH. While the size of the award will depend on the clinical protocols chosen, a typical seven-year clinical trial award runs in the tens of millions of dollars. Dr. Bouvier was the lead writer, editor, and advisor on the U01 submission team from Meg Bouvier Medical Writing.

NIH Common Fund Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Credit: Stuart Miles at

Credit: Stuart Miles at

This month the NIH celebrates the 10th anniversary of the NIH Common Fund, a funding mechanism created to support cross-cutting, trans-NIH programs that require participation by at least two NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs). These large collaborative, multi-disciplinary research projects often have the potential to encourage the development of innovative technologies and research tools that, until the development of the Common Fund, would have had difficulty meshing with the plans of any single one of the existing 27 NIH Institutes or Centers.

Over the last decade, the Common Fund has supported significant and transformative research, including the Human Microbiome Project, Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K), Extracellular RNA, Nanomedicine, Epigenomics, Undiagnosed Diseases Program, as well as the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program that funds individual scientists with particularly innovative ideas or transformative technologies that may lack the preliminary data typically used to evaluate NIH grant applications.

To celebrate this significant milestone in the program’s history, on July 19th the NIH hosted the Common Fund Symposium featuring talks by Dr. Zerhouni, former director of the NIH (2002-2008), as well as many of the remarkable scientists who have led research projects supported by the NIH Common Fund. For those unable to attend the symposium, an archived version of the webcast is accessible to the public here. In addition, over the course of the Symposium, the winners of the first-ever Common Fund video competition were unveiled. This competition encouraged researchers to describe their work to the public utilizing wonderfully creative and often humorous methods, and are well worth a look!


Marijuana Is More Damaging Than You Might Have Thought

Credit: Paul at

Credit: Paul at

Because there is a nationwide move to legalize (or at least decriminalize) pot, there are a lot more studies on   it now. Older studies are not always relevant because there is so much more THC in today’s pot. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) just issued a press release about findings reported in a New England  Journal of Medicine article.

Among the not surprising findings: it’s addictive, it impairs driving, and like alcohol and nicotine it’s a gate- way drug. More surprising: using marijuana as a teenager is more damaging than using it as an adult, probably because the brain is not fully formed until one’s early twenties. The damage to memory and cognition  are more pronounced when used by teens. Using it in your early teens permanently decreases one’s adult IQ, even if you don’t smoke as an adult. Another surprising finding: All users have impaired thought and memory while high, but regardless of age, the deficits actually last for days afterward. An estimated 6.5% of 12th-graders nationwide report daily pot smoking, and 60% do not perceive it as dangerous.


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