“Insights” on Simulation Modeling and Systems Science, New Research Funding Opportunity

By Xinzhi Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.
Program Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Division of Scientific Programs

There are many contributing factors to health, such as race, ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. To help close health gaps, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) spearheads scientific research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve minority health and reduce health disparities.

NIMHD is leading a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA): Simulation Modeling and Systems Science (SMSS) to Address Health Disparities. To learn more about SMSS and this new funding opportunity, NIMHD Program Officer Dr. Xinzhi Zhang addresses a few questions for the Insights blog.

Image of NIMHD Program Officer Dr. Xinzhi Zhang

Dr. Xinzhi Zhang

What is simulation modeling and systems science?  

Systems science considers different components within complex systems across multiple levels to help understand their interactions and influences. The dynamic relationship that unfolds when considering the many factors that contribute to health inequities, such as segregation, food insecurity, and neighborhood safety, to name a few, cannot be fully captured with currently available data and analytic methods. Simulation modeling and systems science (SMSS) is a tool that tests plausible scenarios and helps us understand the magnitude of intended and unintended consequences of specific interventions. It also provides options to adjust and/or refine simulated intervention designs prior to actual implementation testing in the real world.

In what ways can SMSS help us better understand minority health and health disparities?  

Although we know simulation models cannot replace real-world settings or scenarios, many simulation models are becoming indispensable for decision making, such as in national or local pandemic planning. SMSS can also have a profound impact on health policies relevant to minority health and health disparities.

In a variety of fields, SMSS approaches have been used to guide interventions in clinical preventive care and disaster planning as well as analyze national health reform strategies. SMSS has also been used to model potential public health outcomes in cases where it is not feasible to test various intervention strategies on real populations, particularly where interventions may involve factors far upstream from health outcomes, such as societal causes embedded in political, legal, economic, and cultural factors.

How will NIMHD support SMSS research? 

NIMHD is interested in several research priorities that could have significant impact on our knowledge of minority health and health disparities research. Specific examples of research topics can be found in the Simulation Modeling and Systems Science to Address Health Disparities FOA.

Will any other NIH Institutes or Centers participate in this funding opportunity?

Yes. In addition to NIMHD, nine other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices are participating in the Simulation Modeling and Systems Science to Address Health Disparities FOA:

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
  • National Institute on Aging (NIA)
  • National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
  • National Library of Medicine (NLM)
  • Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI), Office of Disease Prevention (ODP)
  • Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)

The due date for the first round of applications is January 7, 2018. Applicants are encouraged to read the entire Simulation Modeling and Systems Science to Address Health Disparities funding opportunity announcement at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-18-331.html to get additional information about the application process.

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