Director’s Voice Blog
Advancing Natural Experiment Research at NIH. Rigorous evaluation of natural experiments is increasingly recognized as important for advancing the NIH’s health research mission. Although there has been a more recent increase in interest in this area of research over the last two decades, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of natural experiment research for improving public health has long been recognized. For example, the cholera outbreak in London in the mid-1800s went into rapid decline after John Snow’s discovery of systematic variation in disease susceptibility based on the use of a specific public water pump. The events, policies, programs, or infrastructure changes being evaluated though natural experiment research are often not designed as true experiments. Read Full Blog.
Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Spotlights
Time-restricted eating feasible and beneficial for cardiometabolic health among shift workers
Over a quarter of the U.S. workforce is comprised of shift workers. Those who work outside traditional work hours commonly include essential and frontline workers such as healthcare workers, emergency responders, and pilots. Shift workers often experience disruptions in sleep-activity and eating-fasting patterns, which are associated with chronic circadian disruptions, and in turn, increased risk for cardiometabolic disease, cancer, infections, and autoimmune diseases. Despite these documented risks, relatively few lifestyle interventions have been developed to improve the health for vulnerable shift work populations. Recently published research supported by the NIDDK, NCI, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and others examined the feasibility and efficacy of a time-restricted eating (TRE) intervention for improving the health of firefighters who work 24-hour shifts. TRE is a behavioral intervention that limits time of daily caloric intake to a consistent window of 6 to 12 hours, without overly restricting energy (caloric) intake.
Anxiety in pregnancy and the association with shorter gestational length
Anxiety is prevalent during pregnancy, with approximately 18% of women reporting elevated anxiety symptoms during their first trimester, 19% in the second trimester, and 25% in the third trimester. “Pregnancy anxiety” (also known as pregnancy-specific anxiety or prenatal anxiety) is an affective state where a pregnant woman experiences anxiety involving concerns and worries about her prenatal health, baby, labor, delivery, and/or future parenting. Pregnancy anxiety has been shown to be associated with adverse birth outcomes, including shorter gestation length/preterm birth, as well as negative early childhood outcomes, such as developmental delays, emotional or behavioral concerns, or cognitive difficulties. Less is known about whether timing of prenatal anxiety during pregnancy has an impact on birth outcomes, and the optimal timing for risk screening in women. Recently published research supported by the NICHD and NIDA aimed to enhance understanding of the predictive impact of the timing of risk screening on multiple measures of anxiety and distress in the first and third trimesters.
New research shows how the brain differentially stores positive and negative memories
Is it possible to leverage the emotional valence of memories to treat certain disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder? In recent research supported by an NIH Early Independence Award (OD, NIMH), the NICHD, and others, researchers gain a better understanding of how the brain processes and stores emotional memories. Memories are stored in different areas across the brain, and individual memories exist as networks of cells known as engrams. In prior research, the ventral hippocampus (vHPC) has been shown to be important in the processing of emotion and valence. In the current study, the researchers sought to characterize the key molecular and genetic differences between positive and negative memories in the cells of the vHPC of mice. More.
News and Events
Input requested on scientific priorities and cross-cutting themes for OBSSR Strategic Plan 2023-2028
OBSSR is seeking input on scientific priorities and cross-cutting themes for the OBSSR Strategic Plan 2023-2028. OBSSR’s mission is to enhance the impact of health related behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR); coordinate BSSR conducted or supported by the NIH and integrate these sciences within the larger NIH research enterprise; and communicate health related BSSR findings to various stakeholders within and outside the federal government.
The purpose of this recently released Request for Information (RFI) (NOT-OD-22-211) is to obtain input on cross-cutting themes and scientific priorities that will help inform OBSSR’s Strategic Plan 2023-2028. You can view the most recent strategic plan (2017-2021) here: https://obssr.od.nih.gov/about/strategic-plan/.
The proposed scientific priorities and themes for the OBSSR Strategic Plan 2023-2028 include:
Three scientific priorities:
- Improve the synergy between basic BSSR and research testing approaches to improve health outcomes
- Enhance and promote research measures, methods, and infrastructure needed to support an integrated and more cumulative approach to BSSR
- Accelerate sustained adoption of BSSR findings in practice
Four cross-cutting themes:
- Integration of BSSR across NIH research
- Science of science
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA)
- Training and capacity building
Review the new RFI: https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-22-211.htmland respond by November 14, 2022, 11:59:59 PM EST: https://rfi.grants.nih.gov/?s=6318d59514480000ab000fa2
Career opportunity: Scientific Diversity Advisor, NIH’s DPCPSI
The Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) in the NIH Office of the Director is seeking exceptional candidates to lead the development and implementation of proactive diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives to ensure a learning and working environment in DPCPSI where all have an opportunity to succeed. The Scientific Diversity Advisor will also collaborate with 14 DPCPSI offices to assess the need for and recommend training initiatives on cultural competency, gender differences, disability, harassment, and other topics designed to increase awareness and support of equity and inclusion values and maintaining compliance with applicable laws. The candidate will work with the Division offices to strengthen, support, and diversify the workforce to make the workplace a fair, equitable, and safe environment for all employees.
For more information about this position, and to access the links to apply using the USA JOBS application click here: https://dpcpsi.nih.gov/careers.
Resources for PAR-22-233: Time-Sensitive Opportunities for Health Research (R61/R33 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
This FOA establishes an accelerated review/award process to support research to understand health outcomes related to an unexpected and/or time-sensitive event (e.g., emergent environmental threat; pandemic; change in local, state, or national policy; natural disaster). Applications in response to this FOA must demonstrate that the research proposed is time-sensitive and must be initiated with minimum delay due to a limited window of opportunity to collect baseline data, answer key research questions, and/or prospectively evaluate a new policy or program. This FOA is intended to support opportunities in which empirical study could only be available through expedited review and funding, necessitating a substantially shorter process than the typical NIH grant review/award cycle. The time from submission to award is expected to occur within 4-5 months. However, administrative requirements and other unforeseen circumstances may delay issuance dates beyond that timeline.
A pre-application webinar was held on October 6, 2022, that provided an overview of the FOA and provided an opportunity to address participant questions. NIH staff discussed the purpose and scope of this funding opportunity, went over the scientific review process, and reviewed criteria and other logistical information.
The slides and webinar recording are now available on the OBSSR website.
NIH All About Grants Podcast – Phase III Trials
NIH’s definition of a Phase III clinical trial is quite broad, including drug studies, device studies, behavioral interventions, epidemiological studies, community trials, and more. Phase III trials are usually large, prospective trials that compare two or more interventions against other standard or experimental interventions. In this next episode of our NIH All About Grants podcast (MP3 / Transcript) we explain what a Phase III trial is, how it compares to other types of clinical trials, considerations for your application and its review, how these studies influence standards of care, helpful tools and other resources, and much more.
The guests include Ms. Dawn Corbett, NIH’s Inclusion Policy Officer, and Dr. Christine Hunter, Acting Director of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.
Announcing the new Advancing Health Communication Science and Practice Program
This program will investigate, develop, test, and share new approaches for effective and equitable health communication by addressing critical gaps in health and science communication relevant across NIH Institutes and Centers while developing approaches to foster equitable health outcomes.
Through community-engaged research across diverse communities, this program aims to increase understanding of what health communication approaches work for whom, under what circumstances, and why. This approach will help meet the information needs of diverse individuals while working toward improving trust in science and enhancing public health.
Recently Published Funding Announcements