NIDA Develops Guidelines for Research Center Grant Program

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NIDA Director, Alan I. Leshner

The field of drug abuse research has undergone a dramatic evolution over the past two decades. Growing numbers of scientific insights and critical research findings continue to improve our understanding of the addiction process and have allowed us to begin to make important gains in the areas of treatment and prevention. At the same time, progress in drug abuse research has produced new questions and opened avenues of scientific inquiry that were unimaginable just a few years ago. The net effect has been the expansion of drug abuse research into an enterprise involving multiple, interrelated scientific disciplines.

To capture and help focus the growth of the field, NIDA provides grant support for a variety of major research centers - broadly based investigative endeavors that bring scientists together in multidisciplinary research environments with shareable resources. NIDA research centers enable innovative, state-of-the-art collaborations in various ways among researchers from the biological, biomedical, behavioral, or clinical sciences as well as those conducting drug abuse prevention, treatment, or services research. Indeed, NIDA research center grant support is intended to enable a high level of interdisciplinary teamwork that would not be possible in any other research environment.

NIDA research center grants are intended to foster a high level of interdisciplinary teamwork that would not be possible in any other research environment

NIDA currently supports more than 30 research centers at institutions throughout the United States. As their names suggest, each center's research programs are organized around that center's central focus, various aspects of which are explored by multi-disciplinary teams of investigators.

After extensive discussions with NIDA's National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and with input from current research center directors, NIDA recently formalized the guidelines for its research center grant program. We believe that the new guidelines, which were published last fall in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts, are an important step forward in defining NIDA's expectations and policies for our center grants and should help improve the laboratories and other facilities that make up the infrastructure for drug abuse research.

The new guidelines spell out the essential characteristics of a NIDA research center so that applicants for center grants have a clear understanding of the factors that go into the evaluation of their applications. Foremost among these defining features is "centerness," which requires that the components of a center relate to each other and to the center's overall focus. In other words, applicants must demonstrate that the whole of the research center is greater than the sum of its parts. A center should enable research that could not be done through another mechanism.

NIDA research centers are expected to serve as regional or national research resources in which outstanding scientists from multiple disciplines bring together a full range of expertise, approaches, and advanced technologies to the study of problems related to drug abuse and addiction. To realize the highest potential of these diverse resources, there should be a high degree of coordination, interaction, and collaboration among center investigators, creating a research environment that encourages cross-fertilization of ideas and that promotes creativity and innovation.

Although the primary function of each NIDA research center is to conduct and enable high-quality research, centers also should have the capacity to train predoctoral and postdoctoral students for careers in drug abuse research. In addition, they should provide career development and mentoring opportunities for potential drug abuse researchers. Because of the essential role that the center director plays in providing scientific leadership and in administering the center, the new guidelines require that applicants be limited to one NIDA center grant.

Under the new guidelines, center grant applications will be accepted in any of the scientific areas the Institute supports on two receipt dates each year: June 1 and October 1. Previously, center grant applications were accepted only in response to specific program announcements (PAs) or requests for applications (RFAs). Still, when particular needs arise, NIDA may from time to time issue PAs or RFAs to solicit center grant applications in specific areas. To ensure continu-ity in review of applications for NIDA center grants, the Institute is establishing a separate committee devoted exclusively to review of center grant applications.

We strongly encourage potential applicants to contact NIDA program staff early in the grant application planning process, as NIDA staff can offer helpful advice for developing a competitive grant application. The following individuals, representing each of NIDA's extramural research divisions, can be contacted for further information about NIDA's research center grant program. All are located at: NIDA, 6001 Executive Blvd, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.

Dr. Meyer Glantz
Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research
Room 9A-54

Dr. Lisa Onken
Division of Clinical and Services Research
Room 10A-10

Dr. Karen Skinner
Division of Basic Research
Room 10A-31

Dr. Betty Tai
Medications Development Division
Room 11A-55

A copy of the announcement containing the new guidelines for the research center grant program can be obtained from the NIDA Grants Management Branch in Room 8A-54 at the above address. The new guidelines will facilitate the establishment of viable research centers and further the Institute's intent to foster innovative research.