director’s message

New Funding Opportunity Announcement for Research Centers in Minority Institutions

By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

It’s been 5 years since the last funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) was issued. Today I’m pleased to share news that the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) is releasing a new FOA that will capitalize on the program’s capacity to generate new scientific discoveries in minority health and health disparities research and to stimulate the next generation of researchers from underrepresented populations in institutions that are committed to this mission.

The RCMI will continue to serve as a flagship program aimed at the development and enhancement of institutional research infrastructure necessary to conduct world-class biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research and to produce well-trained investigators from underrepresented populations who will help enhance diversity in the biomedical research enterprise.

We have modified the RCMI program to make it even stronger in the future, with more flexibility and a three-tiered research structure opportunity for basic, clinical, and/or behavioral research. Eligible institutions must award doctoral degrees in the health professions or health-related sciences, have a historical and current commitment to serving students from underrepresented populations, and receive less than $50 million in average annual NIH funds within the 3 years prior to the time of application.

Given that the single most important predictor of choosing a scientific career is whether an individual participates in a rigorous, mentored research experience, the RCMI program now enables all levels of investigators, especially new and early career investigators, to experience rigorous, mentored research experiences focused on diseases that disproportionately affect minority and other health disparity populations. At least one research project will be included, as well as funds allocated to support pilot projects by postdoctoral fellows and assistant professors.

These program changes support NIMHD’s vision to advance the science of minority health and health disparities, and I encourage eligible institutions to apply. Click here to learn more about the new RCMI FOA.

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Apply Now to the 2017–2018 NIH Medical Research Scholars Program

By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP) is an excellent research enrichment opportunity for promising students from diverse backgrounds to gain real-life experience in NIH laboratories and patient care areas. NIMHD is proud to participate with other NIH Institutes and Centers in the MRSP. Our goal is to introduce the MRSP to medical, dental, and veterinary students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and encourage them to consider biomedical research as a career.

A medical researcher at work.

A medical researcher at work.

The U.S. population continues to increase in diversity, and there is an urgent need to ensure that the scientific talent which is key to our nation’s success is nurtured, recognized, and supported across all demographic groups. We need more researchers from diverse backgrounds to contribute minority perspectives and priorities to the research agenda, and advance the likelihood that underserved or health disparity populations participate in and benefit from health research.

However, minorities are seriously underrepresented in the biomedical workforce. In a recent study of U.S. citizens applying for investigator-initiated NIH research funding, African Americans were 13 percentage points less likely to receive awards, compared with Whites. African Americans/Blacks, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders make up a disproportionately small component of the NIH Principal Investigator (PI) pool.

MRSP works to address this deficit in the research workforce by providing a comprehensive, year-long residential program designed to attract the most creative, research-oriented medical, dental, and veterinary students to the NIH intramural campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Student scholars in their second, third, or fourth year of study engage in a closely mentored basic, clinical, or translational research project that matches their research interests and career goals.

150930_dr_perez-stable_ps2_032_medIn addition to pursuing a rigorous research agenda, MRSP scholars participate in career development activities, lectures, journal club seminars, patient rounds, and clinical research coursework. They also highlight their research in formal presentations to the NIH community and at professional conferences. Each scholar is assigned an advisor who provides guidance in defining a well-articulated career development plan and selecting a dedicated NIH research mentor. Mentors are full-time NIH investigators with established and successful basic, translational, or clinical research programs.

The mentorship of students and early-career scientists is essential to professional success and the future of the biomedical research enterprise as a whole. The availability and quality of mentoring support for graduate students and newly graduated doctorates is important to increasing the proportion of underrepresented minority students who will ultimately obtain an independent position in a research university, medical school, or independent research institute, and finally, successfully compete for R01 grants.

As part of NIH’s mission to train the next generation of clinician-scientists and biomedical researchers, this program is designed for U.S. citizens and permanent residents currently enrolled in an accredited medical, dental, or veterinary program who have completed their core clinical rotations. This does not preclude students with strong research interests from applying before they complete their clinical rotations. Medical and osteopathic students may participate after completing their first year of clinical rotations (i.e., third year of medical school). Dental and veterinary students may participate in the MRSP after completing their second or fourth year of study, due to the integrated nature of the third and fourth (clinical) years.

MRSP scholars experience the full continuum of biomedical research—the bench, the bedside, between the two, and beyond. So this is a comprehensive, integrated, rich opportunity for students ready to build a solid foundation for their careers in biomedical research.  I encourage students who are ready to take this competitive, yet rewarding next step to apply.

Applications for the 2017–2018 program will be accepted from October 1, 2016, through January 13, 2017. Interviews will be held in early March 2017, and selections will be announced in mid-March.

Visit the NIH MRSP website at http://cc.nih.gov/training/mrsp/index.html to learn more and submit your online application.

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NIH Begins Recruitment for Landmark Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study

By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, NIMHD

logo of NIH's adolescent brain cognitive development study

Today I’m delighted to share some exciting news. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching recruitment for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. This is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States. NIMHD is one of eight NIH institutes, centers, and offices along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supporting this landmark study.

Adolescence, the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, is an important period in human development. While major physical and psychological changes are happening, teenagers are testing their independence and exploring their self-identity. All the while, the brain is undergoing dramatic changes in structure and function.

For the ABCD Study, researchers will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children ages 9-10 through adolescence into early adulthood. It is critically important that the participants in this study reflect the U.S. population, as almost half of all children are now from a minority racial or ethnic group. In addition, the study will strive to recruit children from different levels of socioeconomic status and living environments. To accomplish this goal, recruitment will be done through partnerships with public and private schools near 19 research sites in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, as well as through registries of identical and fraternal twins.

Over the next decade, leading researchers in the fields of child development and neuroscience will use extensive baseline interviews, psychological and behavioral testing, and cutting-edge technology in brain imaging, to determine how childhood experiences interact with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and—ultimately—social, behavioral, academic, and other health outcomes. Experiences such as playing video games, participating in extracurricular activities like organized sports, insufficient sleep or poor sleep habits, cigarette smoking, other use of tobacco products, and drinking alcohol. For example, we know that adequate hours of sleep is essential for normal growth and brain development, yet studies show that children from minority and economically underserved communities are more likely to experience shorter sleep times compared to their White and economically advantaged counterparts. As a result, these children are disproportionately affected by the adverse health and quality of life consequences of poor sleep.

When it comes to physical activity, the overall lifelong health benefits are clear. Yet children who participate in certain sports and recreational activities are exposed to various injury risks. The CDC estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities annually. Understanding the relationships among these experiences and their effects on the growing brain will provide answers that can inform educational practices and policy and, ultimately, may help improve the health and well-being of our youth.

At NIMHD, our mission is to lead scientific research to improve minority health and reduce health disparities. We know that increased diversity in participants of clinical research studies is both a crucial part of achieving health equity and an essential component to advance scientific knowledge. For example, we cannot know if a treatment will be effective for certain race/ethnic minority groups if they are not part of clinical research. Greater diversity allows researchers to identify differences between populations and formulate appropriate treatments and contributes to understanding the interactions of individual behavior and biology with the social and physical environment. Diverse representation among study participants in the ABCD study will help us gain a better understanding of development across all groups and ensures that the study results are relevant for all children.

You can learn more about the ABCD Study at www.ABCDStudy.org. Help us spread the word about this important study so diverse communities will not only be represented, but can share in, and benefit from, the medical advances gained from this critical research.

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Welcome to NIMHD Insights, the New NIMHD Blog

By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, NIMHD

At the one-year anniversary of my appointment as director of NIMHD, I’m excited to welcome you to our new blog, NIMHD Insights.

NIMHD leads scientific research in two distinct but overlapping areas: minority health and health disparities. But first of all, what do these terms mean?

Minority health concerns the health of the five U.S. racial and ethnic minorities who have historically faced discrimination and social disadvantage. These groups are defined by the U.S. Census and include African Americans/Blacks, Latinos/Hispanics, Asians, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians/other Pacific Islanders. All of these populations are usually not included as participants of all types of biomedical research and most are also underrepresented as members of the scientific workforce. At NIMHD, we are committed to addressing health issues within each of the minority groups independent of whether the outcome is worse, better or similar to that of the White comparison group. We value research that emphasizes mechanisms by which health differs within these race/ethnic groups, as well as comparisons to each other and Whites.

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes that negatively affect racial and ethnic minorities, persons of less privileged socioeconomic status, and underserved rural populations. All of these persons have historically been subjected to system and individual discrimination that results in social disadvantage and leads to worse health outcomes. NIMHD is focusing on outcomes that reflect a higher incidence/prevalence of diseases, higher or premature mortality from specific causes, a higher burden of illness as reflected by global measures such as disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and worse results on standardized measures of function, well-being or symptoms. NIMHD postulates that the mechanisms that lead to these health disparities have determinants in the behavioral, biological, social, environmental, and clinical health care system that results in these worse outcomes. Understanding these mechanisms is precisely what will lead to development of interventions to reduce health disparities.

Although social disadvantage is at the core of factors that result in health disparities, it is not the only cause. Behavior and lifestyle affect individual and social outcomes especially in interactions with the biological factors of each person. For example, stress associated with early life adverse events may trigger biological mechanisms that may lead to chronic diseases in adults and this has great implications of how we attend to the health of children. Known carcinogen exposure such as tobacco smoke has an increased risk of causing lung cancer in some populations by race/ethnic category and may help us understand different factors that cause cancer, which would not be possible if only one race/ethnic group was included. Poor persons living in one urban environment appear to live an average of four years more than poor people in a different urban environment and this emphasizes the importance of place and systems in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society. Treatment outcomes for persons with diabetes varies by socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and health literacy; interventions need to be attentive to these differences. Understanding the factors that explain these observations will advance our knowledge of minority health and health disparities. Health disparities research seeks to understand the causes and effects of these differences and to use this knowledge to determine the best approaches to improve health outcomes in affected populations.

NIMHD shares and interprets minority health and health disparities research findings, fosters innovative collaborations and partnerships, spearheads NIH’s efforts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the scientific workforce, and promotes the inclusion of minorities in clinical trials and registries. “Inclusion” of minorities in and of itself is not an issue of minority health or health disparities. Rather, it is an issue of social justice and good science that clinical studies need to have diverse populations that represent today’s American demographics.

This blog will feature posts by me and NIMHD research and program staff, along with guest contributors from within and outside NIH who represent the many disciplines that contribute to minority health and health disparities. Topics will look at the Institute’s research priorities and programs, scientific discoveries, and research policies and practices that impact program operations, among other related areas.

I look forward to engaging with you to share new insights and raise intriguing questions that encourage scientific discussion as we work to build an America in which all populations will have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, productive lives.

Visit www.nimhd.nih.gov to learn more about NIMHD and subscribe to our blog.

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