February Proves a Busy Month for NIH Advisory Councils

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Advisory Council met on February 2, 2021(Videocast). Director Diana W. Bianchi, M.D, began with the customary “directors report” providing a funding update, NICHD will receive $1.59 billion for fiscal year (FY) 21, a $66 million increase from the previous year. Of this money, $12.6 million is allocated for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act and another $65 million for INCLUDE (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE).

Dr. Bianchi invited Council members to review the new strategic plan layout under the banner: Check Our Progress on the NICHD website which will feature news and updates on the current status of everything under the NICHD umbrella. A new initiative was rolled out as the NICHD ramps up its battle against structural racism and the effort to diversify science as well as their new anti-harassment plan to deter, prevent, and punish all forms of workplace harassment. New research discussed during the council meeting was mostly focused on studying and decreasing the impact of Covid-19 on children and pregnant mothers. The ABC Science Collaborative study is revealing that the long-believed notion that children are super-spreaders is false and child to adult transmission rates are much lower than expected, supporting efforts to reopen in-person schooling with appropriate measures.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Advisory Council met on February 2, 2021. (videocast) Director Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., shared how NIMH did in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, providing funds through September 20, 2021. This bill provides $42.9 billion to NIH, an increase of $1.25 billion over the FY 2020 appropriation. For NIMH, the bill provides $2.053 billion to NIMH, an increase of $80 million over the FY 2020 appropriation. The bill also includes an additional $50 million earmarked for the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative which is $229 million FY 2021. 

Dr. Gordon led a discussion on a research study that focuses on figuring out ways that technology can improve the ability to monitor and predict what is happening in individuals with schizophrenia during clinical practice. This study highlighted the importance of smart devices in addition to or instead of Ecological Momentary Assessments to figure out how someone is doing. This creates a step towards developing ways to monitor patient symptomology over time that do not require intensive efforts in maintaining engagement by the patients in procedures.

A third NIH Council of importance met earlier this month. Director Nora Volkow, M.D. chaired the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (NIDA) meeting on February 9th, 2021 (videocast). The mission of NIDA is to advance their understanding of drug use, behavior, and the brain, develop and test novel prevention, treatment, and recovery support strategies and study the implementation of evidence-based strategies in real-world settings. Dr. Volkow opened the meeting with a discussion on the NIDA budget for FY 21 amounting to a total of $1.48 million. The Director also spoke about the ways that “COVID-19 has affected our ability to do research” explaining that data collected during the pandemic was less reliable, challenging accuracy of information on drug use trends among U.S teens including the consumption of THC and nicotine through vaping.