The November 18, 2011 edition of the National Institutes of Health’s Weekly Funding Opportunities and Announcements included notice of two new funding opportunities for research into myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS):
ME/CFS: Etiology, Diagnosis, Pathophysiology, and Treatment (for RO1 awards) (PAR-12-032)
ME/CFS: Etiology, Diagnosis, Pathophysiology, and Treatment (for R21 awards) (PAR-12-033)
Funding opportunities announcements (FOAs) are circulated by the NIH Office of Extramural Research to “support research in an understudied area of science, to take advantage of current scientific opportunities, to address a high scientific program priority, or to meet additional needs in research training and infrastructure.”
There are two kinds of FOAs: Program Announcements (PAs) and Requests for Applications (RFAs). The difference between the two is significant. Here are the definitions:
Program Announcement (PA): A PA is a formal statement about a new or ongoing extramural activity or program. It may serve as a reminder of continuing interest in a research area, describe modification in an activity or program, and/or invite applications for grant support. Most applications in response to PAs may be submitted to a standing submission date and are reviewed with all other applications received at that time using standard peer review processes. NIH may also make funds available through PARs (PAs with special receipt, referral, and/or review considerations) and PASs (PAs with set-aside funds).
PAs may be used for any support mechanism other than construction awards. Unless otherwise specified in the PA, new applications (and associated renewal and revision applications) submitted in response to PAs are treated as investigator-initiated. PAs also are used to annually solicit applications for the SBIR and STTR programs. Those applications must be received by the dates specified in the PA. (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm#P27) There are currently 802 active PAs.
Request for Applications (RFA): An RFA is a formal statement that solicits grant or cooperative agreement applications in a well-defined scientific area to accomplish specific program objectives. An RFA indicates the estimated amount of funds set aside for the competition, the estimated number of awards to be made, whether cost sharing is required, and the application submission date(s). For cooperative agreements, the RFA will describe the responsibilities and obligations of NIH and awardees as well as joint responsibilities and obligations. Applications submitted in response to an RFA are usually reviewed by a Scientific Review Group (SRG) specially convened by the awarding component that issued the RFA. (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm#R11) There are currently 97 active RFAs.
The new ME/CFS PAs replace two PAs titled, “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Pathophysiology and Treatment” that were set to expire Jan. 8, 2012. Neither the new nor the expiring PAs were attached to set-aside funds. The most recent CFS-specific RFA was issued in 2005, “Neuroimmune Mechanisms and CFS.” RFAs are generally issued after an NIH-sponsored conference or meeting that helps identify promising areas of research or gaps. Many hoped that the ME/CFS State of the Knowledge Workshop held by NIH in April 2011 would prompt the issue of a new RFA, as the DHHS CFS Advisory Committee had recommended at its May 2011 meeting.
These PAs announce opportunities for researchers to submit “investigator-initiated” proposals. Applications submitted in response to these announcements will be reviewed by the CFS Special Emphasis Panel. Applicants can choose to apply for either an R01, the most common type of NIH grant, or an R21. Here are the definitions for those two programs:
Ro1: The R01 mechanism allows an investigator to define the scientific focus or objective of the research based on a particular area of interest and competence. Although the Project Director/Principal Investigator writes the grant application and is responsible for conducting the research, the applicant is the research organization. (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/r01.htm)
R21: The R21 grant mechanism is intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of project development. The NIH has standardized the Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21) application characteristics, requirements, preparation, and review procedures in order to accommodate investigator-initiated (unsolicited) grant applications. (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/r21.htm)
R01s are generally longer term grants with higher funding amounts (of up to $250,000 per year for 5 years), made on the basis of accumulated data. R21 awards are for earlier stage research and the investigator may or may not have pilot data to support the application. R21s are sometimes referred to as “high risk-high reward” proposals. R21s cannot be for more than 2 years and the total budget must not exceed $275,000.
PAs issued for CFS have typically paired two announcements, one for R01s and one for R21s, as is the case with the new PAs. Both new announcements provide the following description of the type of research proposals they seek to stimulate:
This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) issued by the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) and co-sponsoring Institutes and Centers (ICs) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) encourages investigator(s)-initiated applications that propose to examine the etiology, diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sometimes referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), in diverse groups and across the lifespan. Applications that address gaps in the understanding of the environmental and biological risk factors, the determinants of heterogeneity among patient populations, the common mechanisms influencing the multiple body systems that are affected in ME/CFS are encouraged. The NIH is particularly interested in funding interdisciplinary research that will enhance our knowledge of the disease process and provide evidence based solutions to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life of all persons with ME/CFS. This interdisciplinary research may include the building of scientific teams to study and develop biomarkers, innovative treatment modalities, and/or the modifiable risk and protective processes specifically targeted by preventive and/or treatment interventions.
Twelve NIH institutes and offices support the PAs, indicating their interest to fund proposals that are successful in the review process and fall within their respective portfolios:
Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR)
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)
Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)
The next deadline for submitting proposals in response to these PAs is Feb. 24, 2012, with letters of intent due on Jan. 24, 2012.