8 Mar 2016
March 9, 2016. There is such a thing as good budget news: The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) received an $85 million increase for 2016. "We will use the money for this year to fund additional meritorious grants that otherwise we could not have reached," Bruce Cuthbert, acting director of the NIMH, told SRF. The boost allows the NIMH to fund 2,025 research project grants—34 more than in 2015.
The NIMH 2016 adjusted budget authority is just over $1.5 billion, according to the NIMH budget office. This 5.9 percent increase beats the projected 2.3 percent inflation rate for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget. With a large portion of the funds committed to an unusually high number of ongoing grants in 2016, the budget increase will allow the NIMH to maintain its usual pay line for funding new grants, said Cuthbert.
It should be noted that the funding for neuroscience and mental health research is actually about $1.35 billion, as part of the NIMH budget is spent on AIDS research. This is a vestige of the massive expansion of AIDS research funding during the 1990s and early 2000s, some of which was assigned to noninfectious disease institutes to disburse.
Back to budget reality for 2017: The President's Budget Request for NIMH is a flat continuation of 2016, with a final budget authority of $1,518,390,000, according to the NIMH budget office. Although the total budget is the same, changes in the use of specific funds comes at the expense of research grants—59 fewer grants will be awarded in 2017 (53 non-competing and six competing).
Cuthbert said the NIMH tries to adjust the budget where it can to continue funding new grants, such as no longer funding conference grants and cutting back on funding for research centers and Administrative Supplements (additional funds awarded to current projects). "We do our best to keep the pay line where it is," said Cuthbert.
The 2017 budget request brings good news for postdocs and graduate trainees, however: the NRSA trainee stipend will increase 2 percent, supported by $528,000 provided by the NIMH. The number of NRSA research trainee positions will remain the same as in 2016.
The NIH will continue to increase support for the BRAIN Initiative, a collaborative program started in 2014 with an aim to revolutionize our understanding of the brain. The NIMH, along with the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke (NINDS), is a lead institute for the BRAIN Initiative and received funds dedicated to this program.
Other specific funds include support for the Early Psychosis Intervention Network (EPINET). "It's becoming clear that we need to devote very strong efforts to reducing the duration of untreated psychosis," said Cuthbert, adding that this is a goal of the EPINET program. The 2017 budget requests $6.0 million, while the NIMH has provided an additional $7.364 million specifically for the program.
Of course, the NIMH budget is at the mercy of Congress, and Cuthbert emphasized that debates about the 2017 request are just getting started. Contingency plans are being made for any additional money. While it looks as though there may be a change from the flat budget, discussions of mandatory and discretionary funding are also at play.
NIMH director update
The search process continues for a new director of the NIMH to replace Tom Insel, who stepped down in November 2015 after serving in that capacity for 13 years. The decision committee is chaired by Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Walter Koroshetz, director of the NINDS. "The plan is to interview potential candidates this month," said Cuthbert, adding that the search is on schedule. Cuthbert speculates that they are hoping to get someone by the fall, but notes that the timing of the appointment will depend on whether the new director is an internal candidate or from outside the NIH.—Lesley McCollum.