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June 20, 2012

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

In The News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Header: Feature Articles.

What's on the Docket? Look at Our Concepts

While your dictionary defines "concept" as a general notion or idea, we're using it as a bit of NIH lingo. It's one you'll want to know.

Here at NIH, concepts refer to the early stage of a potential initiative—a request for applications (RFA), program announcement, or solicitation. We use them to stimulate research in high-priority areas of science, and some have money set aside to fund the awards.

At the May advisory Council meeting, members reviewed our latest concepts to help shape our initial plans and, for some, gave us the go-ahead should we decide later to publish an initiative.

Don't be put off by cautionary words like "potential" and "should we decide." Though we can't guarantee any concept will become an initiative, even if Council-approved, you can still benefit from having this forward-looking information. Here's how.

Know All the Angles

Concepts can be a useful tool in your funding toolbox if you think of them as a heads-up for potential high-priority areas.

That mindset can help you in two ways:

  1. Get an early start planning and writing your application before we publish the initiative.
  2. Submit an investigator-initiated application in the same scientific area. 

For approach one, you'll want to consider whether the concept is likely to move ahead or languish. If we are renewing an existing project, we will most likely publish the initiative.

For a new concept, there's no way to know its fate for sure, but here are some historical data to use as a gauge. For the September 2010, February 2011, and May 2011 Council meetings, 35 of 40 approved concepts became published initiatives. (Those are the latest three meetings that allow enough time for an initiative to come out.)

For more guidance, touch base with your program officer or the contact person listed on Concepts: Potential Initiatives, linked below.

Also be aware that competition can be intense for initiatives that have set-aside funds, for example, requests for applications. Read more in Initiatives—See if It's a Good Match in the Strategy for NIH Funding, linked below.

But even if your concept of choice comes to naught, you could take advantage of approach two. Since you will be applying in a high-priority area, you might get a funding boost whether we publish an initiative or not.

An investigator-initiated application in a top-priority area of science has a better chance of being funded through selective pay should it miss the payline (no guarantees, of course).

Whatever you choose to do, be aware of one very important caveat: always make sure you are fully qualified to conduct the research.

Your qualifications—not our priorities—should always drive your choice of topic. But if the two align, focusing on one of our priorities may work to your advantage.

Read more about using concepts advantageously in Choose Approach and Find FOAs in the Strategy for NIH Funding, linked below. And get more advice from your program officer or the contact person listed on the concept page.

In the Spotlight

Among the concepts approved at the last six Council meetings, you'll find these three RFAs we'd like to bring to your attention, one from each of our program divisions.

DAIDS—Mechanisms of Cellular Immunity in the Female Reproductive Tract. We're looking for applications that study the mechanisms for inducing and maintaining effective antigen-specific CD8+ memory T cells in the female reproductive tract. This information is key to designing a vaccine that induces T-cell immunity in women exposed to HIV by heterosexual intercourse. We are strongly encouraging cross-disciplinary collaborations.

DAIT—Formerly the Immune Tolerance Network, the Collaborative Network for Clinical Research on Immune Tolerance, now uses the cooperative agreement to seek applications that will 1) explore the induction, maintenance, and loss of tolerance in humans and 2) develop new interventions for preventing and treating immune-mediated diseases, including transplant rejection, autoimmune diseases, asthma, and allergies.

DMID—Partnerships for Biodefensesupports milestone-driven, preclinical research to develop therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostics against NIAID Category A-C pathogens and toxins. Your application needs to include preliminary data that establishes a proof-of-principle for the target products. Because of the focus on product development, you will need to participate with industrial laboratories.

Council's Work

We rely on our advisory Council to perform four functions: review and approve concepts for initiatives, conduct second-level review, review scientific programs, and advise us on policy issues.

Conceptually Speaking

For concept clearance, Council members look carefully at each concept and may recommend changes to the budget, scientific focus, or funding type—e.g., grant or contract.

A couple of weeks after the Council meeting, we post the concepts that our Council approved. You can find the meeting schedule on the Advisory Council portal, linked below. If we later publish an initiative, we add a link to it on its page within Concepts: Potential Initiatives, linked below.

You can learn more about how Concepts May Turn Into Initiatives in the NIAID Funding Opportunity Planning and the Budget Cycle, linked below.

Making Funding Recommendations

As you may know, NIH has a dual peer review system. All applications must undergo an initial peer review of the science as well as a second-level review, largely for special issues such as applications from foreign organizations or a reinstatement of Specific Aims.

Council performs the latter role.

Most applications without special issues get little or no scrutiny, and Council approves them "en bloc."

Applications that score within the payline and have no study section concerns benefit from an early second-level review that enables us to award the grants earlier. Three Council members perform this "expedited review," which takes place before the Council meeting. You can find details in our Expedited Council Review and Award SOP, linked below.

Getting Expert Input

When it comes to policy, we often ask our advisory Council to weigh in. Sometimes, it will form a special working group to examine important scientific or policy issues.

We also look to Council for feedback on our scientific programs, looking at such aspects as whether they're effective in meeting program goals and the needs and opportunities in a scientific field.

As these topics arise, we cover them in this newsletter to keep you informed.


To learn more about our advisory Council, check out the following:

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One More Note About Finding a Study Section

In our May 9, 2012, article "Take Time to Size Up Potential Study Sections," we advised you to find a study section that would share your perspective and appreciate your work.

Some readers took this to mean that NIH was not interested in innovative applications or that we were recommending you tailor your research aims to the study section and its members, which is certainly not the case.

We want to make clear that we encourage you to submit innovative research, while keeping in mind these points:

  1. Your research should be innovative but, generally, not too much so—read more in Flight to Safety for Innovation in the Strategy for NIH Funding.
  2. Be aware of an NIH study reported in a March 8, 2011, Rock Talk blog post that showed Approach is the review criterion that most correlates to your score followed by Innovation and Significance.

When you choose a project and write your application, you should always focus on designing the best possible science and then presenting a compelling case to your reviewers.  Then, take the time to consider several study sections, so you can find the one that is the best fit with the work you are proposing.

While we weren’t recommending that you tailor your research aims to the study section, we were recommending that you tailor how you present the information.

For example, for a virology application, you can omit some background information if the study section is filled only with virologists compared to a study section that has virologists, immunologists, and pharmacologists. (Keep in mind, there is no guarantee that your application will be assigned to the study section you requested.)

And if you are proposing highly innovative research, explain why it is novel and significant in terms that your reviewers, who may not be equally familiar with your research area, can understand.  Read more in Getting a Grant for Innovative Research.

Let us know if this topic is a concern for you—email

Header: Opportunities and Resources.

Get the Scoop on a New Prize for One Exceptional Researcher

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) has a new way to recognize the crème de la crème: a $100,000 achievement award for one outstanding biomedical scientist younger than age 52.

This is the first time FNIH has offered this award, and it's accepting nominations from anybody at an accredited educational or scientific institution, with no institutional approval required.

You can nominate whomever you'd like with few exceptions (e.g., you can't nominate yourself). Get details at FNIH's The Lurie Prize in the Biomedical Sciences.

The nomination deadline is August 15, 2012.

Header: Other News. 

Find Letters From CSR in the Commons

Say goodbye to paper letters from NIH CSR's Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR). Now you'll get an email asking you to check a new section called "Correspondence" in the Commons.

Since email is not always reliable, we advise you to play it safe and watch the Commons closely after you apply to ensure all is well.

DRR's role is the same as before—staff there check your application and confirm whether it meets NIH submission policies. They will post a letter in the "Correspondence" section if:

  • Your application doesn't meet those requirements.
  • DRR needs more information before they can decide where to assign your application.
  • There's some other problem.

For more on DRR's role and a list of potential failure points, read NIH Checks Your Application in the Strategy for NIH Funding. NIH announced this change in a May 23, 2012, Guide notice.

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News Brief

NIH Working Group Wants Your Take on the Biosketch. Send your thoughts on a proposal to modify the biosketch format to allow investigators to describe their most important accomplishments or the scientific impact of their research findings. You have until June 29, 2012, to respond to NIH's request for information. Read the June 1, 2012, Guide notice for background and instructions.

Header: Advice Corner.

Tackle Bars to Award Now or Risk Losing Your Grant

Summer is a time to relax and take life a little easier than usual, but you shouldn’t rest easy if you have a bar to award.

Send documentation ASAP so we can clear your grant for funding.

Once we get your information, we send it to NIH for review and approval to lift your bar.  That process can take weeks to complete, and there’s nothing we can do to intervene.

If we don’t have NIH approval by mid-August, we may have to leave your application unfunded or give you a restricted award that prevents you from spending some or all of your money.

Contact your program officer right now if you’re delayed (or anticipate delays) in getting any information to us, and read the following SOPs:

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Ensure Smooth Sailing During the CCR Transition

By now you may have heard that Central Contractor Registration (CCR) will automatically move your information into a new System for Award Management (SAM) when the federal government switches over at the end of July.

Feel free to pass along the following tips to your institutional business office to avoid any hang-ups during the transition.

  • If you're a new applicant, register with CCR as soon as you can. The process takes three to five days, and NIH has warned us that transition to the new system may delay your request for an account. Act now so you know you won't have anything holding up your application submission.
  • If you're already registered, verify your profile is up to date. Once you sign up for your new SAM account, your information will already be waiting for you.
  • If you're planning a fellowship or small business application for an August receipt date, make sure you complete your CCR registration by mid-July at the latest. You won't have access to CCR for at least six days before SAM is active, and waiting until the new system comes online may not give you enough time to complete the five-day on-boarding process before you apply.

For more on the move and the new system, including frequently asked questions, go to System for Award Management.

Header: Reader Questions.

Feel free to send us a question at After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.

"What is the maximum number of Specific Aims I can include in an R21 application?"—anonymous reader

There is no limit on the number of Specific Aims you can include in an R21 application.

You may find it helpful to see what other investigators have done in their successful applications. Take a look at our Sample Applications and Summary Statements.

"When I apply, do I need to include DUNS, CCR, and NCAGE numbers for my foreign subawardees?"—Thad Haddad, The Ohio State University

You do need to include DUNS numbers for all foreign subawardees. 

For Central Contractor Registration (CCR) numbers and NATO Commercial and Government Entity (NCAGE) codes, check with your business office.

NCAGE codes are required for CCR registration, but CCR registration is required only if your subawardees report their own information or conduct business on their own with the U.S. government.

For more information, go to's Applicant Resources.

Header: New Funding Opportunities.

See other announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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Last Updated June 20, 2012

Last Reviewed June 20, 2012