NICHD Releases Strategic Plan and NIMH Advisory Councils Meet

September 25, 2019

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) released their strategic plan at their Advisory Council meeting on September 18. The last time NICHD updated their mission and plan was 20 years ago.

As readers may recall, FABBS had submitted comments back in February in response to the draft plan. While it is clear that NICHD gave careful consideration to comments and that the revision addresses some of the concerns we expressed, it still lacks adequate recognition of the role of behavioral and cognitive science. Dr. Bianchi explained that the plan is intended to be a living document, and that the absence of a research topic in the plan this does not mean that it will not be funded. Nonetheless, FABBS will continue to engage with NICHD as they work to implement the plan.

The NICHD Strategic Plan 2020 includes five themes:

  1. Understanding the Molecular, Cellular, and Structural Basis of Development
  2. Promoting Gynecologic, Andrologic, and Reproductive Health
  3. Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness
  4. Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood
  5. Advancing Safe and Effective Therapeutics and Devices for Pregnant and Lactating Women, Children, and People with Disabilities

And five cross-cutting topics: Health disparities, disease prevention, infectious disease, nutrition, global health.

A webcast of the meeting is available here – the presentation on the strategic plan starts at 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Strategic planning was also on the agenda for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Advisory Council when they met the following day. Julie Mason, the Deputy Director of Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications, provided an update, explaining that this version builds on the solid foundation already in place, and this is a ‘refresh not a rewrite’. A webcast is available here with the strategic plan conversation starting at minute 52.

While not yet available to the public, NIMH shared a draft with Council members and invited specific members to respond to each of the four goals:

  1. Define the Brain Mechanisms Underlying Complex Behaviors
  2. Chart Mental Illness Trajectories Across the Lifespan
  3. Strive for Prevention and Cures
  4. Strengthening the Public Health Impact of NIMH-Supported Research

Council members were very engaged and complimentary of the document while raising extremely important points. Several members echoed the concern that the plan struck them as overly focused on mental illness at the expense of understanding and promoting mental health, wellness, and resilience. Members also expressed interest in seeing more about the beginnings of behavior, development, and prevention. Other members observed that there was no mention of ‘family’ in the draft, an important component of understanding mental health. Another member observed that there is not enough psychosocial research in the document – stress and trauma, neglect, and poverty as risk factors.

One Council member asked how NIMH determines the balance between NIMH-led or targeted research as opposed to investigator initiated/fundamental research, and which leads to more advancement. Dr. Gordon responded that this varies widely by institute and gave examples of important findings that came about from both approaches.

The conversation ended with a critical observation, one that will likely resonate with many FABBS members. Despite a concerted effort to determine biological explanations for mental illness, the science has not been able to do so. A Council member encouraged NIMH to consistently reflect a combination of both biological and behavioral research in their strategic plan.  

FABBS will share the draft strategic plan as soon as it is releaed and will respond to the request for comment.