Department of Health and Human Services

Part 1. Overview Information

Participating Organization(s)

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Components of Participating Organizations

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Funding Opportunity Title
Biological Basis for how Environmental Exposures Impact Risk for Psychiatric Disorders (R21 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
Activity Code

R21 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant

Announcement Type
New
Related Notices

NOT-OD-23-012 Reminder: FORMS-H Grant Application Forms and Instructions Must be Used for Due Dates On or After January 25, 2023 - New Grant Application Instructions Now Available

NOT-OD-22-190 - Adjustments to NIH and AHRQ Grant Application Due Dates Between September 22 and September 30, 2022

Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) Number
RFA-ES-22-009
Companion Funding Opportunity
RFA-ES-22-008 , R01 Research Project
Assistance Listing Number(s)
93.113
Funding Opportunity Purpose

The objective of this funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is to solicit applications that propose to better understand the biological basis by which environmental exposures alter brain and behavioral functioning to increase risk for psychiatric disorders with onset in late-childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. The R21 grant mechanism is intended to encourage exploratory and developmental research projects that are high-risk and/or use novel approaches with potential for significant impact. Investigations that further advance our understanding of psychiatric conditions where there is less evidence of an environmental exposure link are of particular interest. Since basic and pre-clinical research is critical for the study of neurobiological mechanisms that drive complex behaviors including mental illness, the focus of this FOA is to encourage a range of mechanistic approaches, from in vitro systems to whole organism models, to examine the link between environmental chemicals and possible contribution to the pathogenesis of psychiatric abnormalities. Investigations that further advance our understanding of the joint contribution of genes and environment in the risk for psychiatric disorders are also welcomed. It is anticipated that knowledge gained from the research supported by this FOA will inform the development of improved intervention, prevention and/or therapeutic strategies.

This FOA will use the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant (R21) award mechanism and runs in parallel with another FOA, RFA-ES-22-008, which encourages applications under the R01 mechanism.

Key Dates

Posted Date
October 03, 2022
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date)
January 22, 2023
Letter of Intent Due Date(s)

January 22, 2023

Application Due Dates Review and Award Cycles
New Renewal / Resubmission / Revision (as allowed) AIDS Scientific Merit Review Advisory Council Review Earliest Start Date
February 22, 2023 Not Applicable Not Applicable June 2023 October 2023 December 2023

All applications are due by 5:00 PM local time of applicant organization. 

Applicants are encouraged to apply early to allow adequate time to make any corrections to errors found in the application during the submission process by the due date.

Expiration Date
February 23, 2023
Due Dates for E.O. 12372

Not Applicable

Required Application Instructions

It is critical that applicants follow the instructions in the Research (R) Instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide, except where instructed to do otherwise (in this FOA or in a Notice from NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts).

Conformance to all requirements (both in the Application Guide and the FOA) is required and strictly enforced. Applicants must read and follow all application instructions in the Application Guide as well as any program-specific instructions noted in Section IV. When the program-specific instructions deviate from those in the Application Guide, follow the program-specific instructions.

Applications that do not comply with these instructions may be delayed or not accepted for review.

There are several options available to submit your application through Grants.gov to NIH and Department of Health and Human Services partners. You must use one of these submission options to access the application forms for this opportunity.

  1. Use the NIH ASSIST system to prepare, submit and track your application online.
  2. Use an institutional system-to-system (S2S) solution to prepare and submit your application to Grants.gov and eRA Commons to track your application. Check with your institutional officials regarding availability.

  3. Use Grants.gov Workspace to prepare and submit your application and eRA Commons to track your application.


  4. Table of Contents

Part 2. Full Text of Announcement

Section I. Funding Opportunity Description

Background

In the United States it is estimated that one in five adults suffer with mental illnesses, including prevalent disorders such as major depression and anxiety as well as less common disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental illness is a high-cost driver worldwide and it is projected that, by 2030, the cost to the global economy will reach $16 trillion and will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity. In addition to those individuals who meet strict diagnostic criteria for mental disorder(s), many more suffer from subclinical psychiatric traits and symptoms, in keeping with the evolving conceptual framework of continuous variation of psychiatric traits across the general population. Against this backdrop, there is an urgent need to identify modifiable risk factors that can lead to the development of strategies to prevent or reduce the population burden of psychiatric disorders and related disabling symptoms.

NIEHS has a long history of supporting projects focused on how environmental exposures impact brain and behavioral endpoints. A robust body of work has demonstrated links between developmental exposures and cognitive and psychiatric outcomes in early childhood (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, intellectual deficits). A separate line of research in aging populations has revealed exposure-related risks for various cognitive and neurological impairments (e.g., Parkinson's disease, cognitive decline). In contrast, research on environmental contributors to brain health in late childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, when clinical symptoms of many psychiatric disorders emerge, has lagged. This gap is particularly compelling when considering that adolescents and young adults experience higher rates of mental illness than other age groups.

Although advances in clinical neuroscience and growing NIH investment in human/epidemiological studies have increased our insight into how environment can impact behavior and possible psychiatric risk in humans, the need for comparable efforts in fundamental neuroscience is evident. Novel treatment and prevention strategies require a full understanding for how cellular, molecular, genetic, pharmacological and neural circuitry are altered in individuals suffering from mental illness. To this end, the focus of this funding opportunity is to encourage fundamental/basic studies that examine the impact of environmental chemicals on psychiatric outcomes.

Recent trends in understanding how environmental exposures impact the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders


Most psychiatric disorders exhibit moderate to high heritability, with a complex underlying genetic architecture reflecting the contribution of many common and rare genetic variants. Genetics alone provides an incomplete account of individual vulnerability, however, and there is increasing recognition that the environment contributes to risk and expression of these disorders. In addition to well-established findings supporting psychosocial stress and poor nutrition as risk factors, there are suggestive data for several environmental chemicals. Independent studies have linked childhood exposure to lead (Pb) with risk of schizophrenia, anxiety and depressive symptoms in adolescence, and impairment in executive function, which is a shared feature of multiple psychiatric conditions. Exposure to a commonly used class of pesticides, organophosphate compounds, has been associated with symptoms seen in major depression, suicide risk, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Recent studies have also linked gestational exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals with higher anxiety, hyperactivity and depression scores in children.

Data obtained in model systems bolster the idea that environmental chemicals may be risk factors for psychiatric disorders. For example, multiple studies in rodents demonstrate that exposure to certain pesticides or to one or more chemicals found in air pollution can cause brain and behavioral changes that are consistent with a depressive phenotype. Other studies demonstrate an interaction of Pb with gene expression and function of several neurotransmitter systems that have been implicated in schizophrenia. Collectively, results from experimental systems support the premise that multiple known neurotoxicants interact with several biologic pathways and processes (e.g., gene regulation in the brain, synaptic plasticity) that have been implicated by genetic studies of psychiatric disorders.

While few studies have examined the joint effects of genes and environment on psychiatric outcomes, a rapidly developing area of research has focused on epigenetic factors, such as DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNA. A variety of environmental insults, including maternal stress and nutrition, heavy metals, pesticides, air pollution, and endocrine active compounds, have been linked to epigenetic alterations. Studies are beginning to explore how epigenomic changes in response to environmental chemical exposures may mediate environmental risk effects on psychiatric health outcomes.

Despite the progress cited above, additional attention is needed to accelerate the pace of research aimed at identifying environmental contributors to psychiatric disorders. Previous NIEHS-supported efforts included a workshop that brought together experts in psychiatry, fundamental neuroscience, genetics, immunology, and environmental health sciences to identify gaps and opportunities for research in this emerging area (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/events/pastmtg/2017/biological-mechanisms/index.cfm) and follow-up meetings in 2021-2022 that explored new diagnostic tools and methodologies, such as dynamic brain imaging techniques, to assess the impact of environmental factors on mental health and related neurological outcomes (https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/the-interplay-between-environmental-exposures-and-mental-health-outcomes-a-workshop and https://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/events/pastmtg/2022/mnworkshop2022/index.cfm). Key gaps that emerged from these workshops include: sparse data addressing if/how specific exposures affect cellular, molecular or circuit-level alterations associated with psychiatric disorders; uncertainties around mechanisms outside the brain (e.g., microbiome) and their role in mediating exposure-psychiatric disorder associations; a need for multi-disciplinary collaborations to advance emerging tools and technologies; and limited awareness and application of dimensional approaches to behavioral measures in the field of environmental health (e.g., NIMH's Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative; see http://www.nimh.nih.gov/research-priorities/rdoc/index.shtml for more information).

Research Objectives and Scope

The purpose of this FOA is to stimulate research that builds on suggestive data linking exposure and psychiatric outcomes by supporting fundamental/basic studies that seek to understand the underlying biology of these relationships. The R21 grant mechanism used under this FOA is intended to encourage exploratory and developmental research projects by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of these projects. Therefore, investigations that further advance our understanding of psychiatric conditions where there is less evidence of an environmental exposure link are strongly encouraged.

Psychiatric outcomes/phenotypes of interest and assessment in model systems

Studies should focus on psychiatric disorder(s) that typically emerge in late childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. Given the high morbidity found in individuals diagnosed with a mental health disorder, applicants are encouraged to consider co-occurring psychiatric disorders/traits and potential shared etiologies in their model systems. The use of in vitro and ex vivo cellular/molecular models with accompanying rationale for their relevance to psychiatric disorders/traits, are also welcomed. Applicants proposing mechanistic studies in whole organism model systems should provide strong justification for the model and the phenotypes to be assessed (e.g., deficits in pre-pulse inhibition of the startle reflex response; impairments in executive function) and their relationship to the targeted psychiatric disorder(s)/trait(s). However, investigators should take great care in describing translation of models to the human condition, such as avoiding the attempt to validate an animal model for a particular psychiatric disorder. (Further discussion on the appropriate use of animals in basic and pre-clinical studies are described in this NIMH notice, https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-MH-19-053.html)

Research approaches to link biology, exposure and psychiatric outcomes

All projects should incorporate one or more non-behavioral biologic measures that are directly relevant to the hypothesized relationship between the exposure(s) and psychiatric outcome(s). Applicants should provide a strong justification for the biologic measure(s) proposed for study. Biologic measures may include, but are not limited to, genomic, metagenomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, metabolic and small molecule biomarkers of cellular processes. Applicants are encouraged to capitalize on modern tools and approaches (e.g., chemogenetics and optogenetics, functional and structural brain imaging, population-based rodent models, exposomics) in their studies.

Environmental exposures of interest

The proposed project must fall within the NIEHS mission. Environmental agents which are considered of primary interest for NIEHS include: industrial chemicals or manufacturing byproducts, metals, pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants and other inhaled toxicants, particulates or fibers, fungal, and bacterial or biologically derived toxins. Investigators who propose studies with a primary focus on NIEHS mission relevant exposures are encouraged to consider inclusion of other relevant environmental exposures (e.g., nutrition) in order to assess their role(s) as cofactors/modifiers of the risk or protection associated with the primary exposure(s). Applications that propose laboratory-based studies using only model compounds (i.e., those without potential for human exposure) must provide a clear, reasonable and specific description as to how research on the model compound will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in responses to specific environmental agents which are included in the mission responsibility of the NIEHS.

Specific Areas of Research Interest

Topics that are appropriate for this FOA include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Developmental windows of susceptibility for how chemical exposure(s) impact the underlying biology of sex differences (e.g., estrogen and androgen receptor expression in discreet brain regions) in the trajectory of psychiatric phenotypes.
  • Neural circuitry underlying toxicant-induced changes in behavioral phenotypes relevant to psychiatric disorders/traits
  • Relationship(s) between environmental exposures and synaptic processes (e.g., synaptic integrity, synaptic plasticity and/or synaptic transmission) that are implicated in psychiatric disorders/traits
  • Epigenetic and epigenomic alterations (e.g., histone modifications, changes in DNA methylation, non-coding RNA regulation) caused by developmental exposures and their role in mediating the association of those exposures with psychiatric disorders/traits
  • Alterations in level or pattern of peripheral biomarkers (e.g., cortisol, cytokines) and their role in mediating the relationship between environmental exposures and psychiatric disorders/traits
  • Impact of environmental exposures on gut microbiome and consequences for risk of psychiatric disorders/traits
  • Neurobiological changes underlying how environmental chemical exposures combine with other environmental factors (e.g., microbial pathogens such as viruses, diet and nutrition, psychosocial stress, substance use, physical activity levels) to protect or increase risk for psychiatric disorders/symptoms.
  • Use of genetically engineered models (e.g., population-based rodent models) to identify susceptibility to exposure-related psychiatric phenotypes
  • Role of non-neuronal cell populations, which make up close to 90% of the cells in the brain, in the effects of environmental toxicants on psychiatric disorders/traits.

Non-responsive applications

The following types of applications will be considered non-responsive to this FOA and returned without review:

  • Epidemiologic investigations and/or studies that meet the NIH definition for human subjects research (https://grants.nih.gov/policy/humansubjects.htm)
  • Projects that do not include at least one NIEHS mission relevant environmental exposure (as described under "Environmental exposures of interest").
  • Applications that describe behavioral outcomes linked with increased risk for psychiatric disorder(s) that typically emerge before late childhood or after early adulthood. Examples of conditions that are out of the scope of this FOA (and deemed nonresponsive) are projects that focus on autism spectrum disorder or neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.
  • Studies that examine associations between exposure(s) and psychiatric outcomes without inclusion of a non-behavioral measure of biologic response.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the NIEHS Scientific/Research staff listed in Section VII prior to submission to ensure their project is responsive to this FOA.

See Section VIII. Other Information for award authorities and regulations.

Section II. Award Information

Funding Instrument

Grant: A support mechanism providing money, property, or both to an eligible entity to carry out an approved project or activity.

Application Types Allowed
New

The OER Glossary and the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide provide details on these application types. Only those application types listed here are allowed for this FOA.

Clinical Trial?

Not Allowed: Only accepting applications that do not propose clinical trials.

Funds Available and Anticipated Number of Awards

NIEHS intends to commit $3 million to fund 5-6 awards across this FOA and companion announcement for R01s (RFA-ES-22-008).

Award Budget

Direct costs are limited to $275,000 over a two-year project period, with no more than $200,000 in direct costs allowed in any single year.

Award Project Period

The scope of the proposed project should determine the project period. The maximum project period is 2 years.

NIH grants policies as described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement will apply to the applications submitted and awards made from this FOA.

Section III. Eligibility Information

1. Eligible Applicants

Eligible Organizations

Higher Education Institutions

  • Public/State Controlled Institutions of Higher Education
  • Private Institutions of Higher Education

The following types of Higher Education Institutions are always encouraged to apply for NIH support as Public or Private Institutions of Higher Education:

  • Hispanic-serving Institutions
  • Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
  • Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs)
  • Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions
  • Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)

Nonprofits Other Than Institutions of Higher Education

  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS Status (Other than Institutions of Higher Education)
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS Status (Other than Institutions of Higher Education)

For-Profit Organizations

  • Small Businesses
  • For-Profit Organizations (Other than Small Businesses)

Local Governments

  • State Governments
  • County Governments
  • City or Township Governments
  • Special District Governments
  • Indian/Native American Tribal Governments (Federally Recognized)
  • Indian/Native American Tribal Governments (Other than Federally Recognized)

Federal Government

  • Eligible Agencies of the Federal Government
  • U.S. Territory or Possession

Other

  • Independent School Districts
  • Public Housing Authorities/Indian Housing Authorities
  • Native American Tribal Organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments)
  • Faith-based or Community-based Organizations
  • Regional Organizations
Foreign Institutions

Non-domestic (non-U.S.) Entities (Foreign Institutions) are not eligible to apply.

Non-domestic (non-U.S.) components of U.S. Organizations are not eligible to apply.

Foreign components, as defined in the NIH Grants Policy Statement, are allowed. 

Required Registrations

Applicant Organizations

Applicant organizations must complete and maintain the following registrations as described in the SF 424 (R&R) Application Guide to be eligible to apply for or receive an award. All registrations must be completed prior to the application being submitted. Registration can take 6 weeks or more, so applicants should begin the registration process as soon as possible. The NIH Policy on Late Submission of Grant Applications states that failure to complete registrations in advance of a due date is not a valid reason for a late submission.

  • System for Award Management (SAM)– Applicants must complete and maintain an active registration, which requires renewal at least annually. The renewal process may require as much time as the initial registration. SAM registration includes the assignment of a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code for domestic organizations which have not already been assigned a CAGE Code.
    • NATO Commercial and Government Entity (NCAGE) Code – Foreign organizations must obtain an NCAGE code (in lieu of a CAGE code) in order to register in SAM.
    • Unique Entity Identifier (UEI)- A UEI is issued as part of the SAM.gov registration process. The same UEI must be used for all registrations, as well as on the grant application.
  • eRA Commons - Once the unique organization identifier is established, organizations can register with eRA Commons in tandem with completing their full SAM and Grants.gov registrations; all registrations must be in place by time of submission. eRA Commons requires organizations to identify at least one Signing Official (SO) and at least one Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) account in order to submit an application.
  • Grants.gov – Applicants must have an active SAM registration in order to complete the Grants.gov registration.

Program Directors/Principal Investigators (PD(s)/PI(s))

All PD(s)/PI(s) must have an eRA Commons account.  PD(s)/PI(s) should work with their organizational officials to either create a new account or to affiliate their existing account with the applicant organization in eRA Commons. If the PD/PI is also the organizational Signing Official, they must have two distinct eRA Commons accounts, one for each role. Obtaining an eRA Commons account can take up to 2 weeks.

Eligible Individuals (Program Director/Principal Investigator)

Any individual(s) with the skills, knowledge, and resources necessary to carry out the proposed research as the Program Director(s)/Principal Investigator(s) (PD(s)/PI(s)) is invited to work with his/her organization to develop an application for support. Individuals from diverse backgrounds, including underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, and women are always encouraged to apply for NIH support.

For institutions/organizations proposing multiple PDs/PIs, visit the Multiple Program Director/Principal Investigator Policy and submission details in the Senior/Key Person Profile (Expanded) Component of the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.

2. Cost Sharing

This FOA does not require cost sharing as defined in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

3. Additional Information on Eligibility

Number of Applications

Applicant organizations may submit more than one application, provided that each application is scientifically distinct.

The NIH will not accept duplicate or highly overlapping applications under review at the same time, per 2.3.7.4 Submission of Resubmission Application. This means that the NIH will not accept:

  • A new (A0) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of an overlapping new (A0) or resubmission (A1) application.
  • A resubmission (A1) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of the previous new (A0) application.
  • An application that has substantial overlap with another application pending appeal of initial peer review (see 2.3.9.4 Similar, Essentially Identical, or Identical Applications)

Section IV. Application and Submission Information

1. Requesting an Application Package

The application forms package specific to this opportunity must be accessed through ASSIST, Grants.gov Workspace or an institutional system-to-system solution. Links to apply using ASSIST or Grants.gov Workspace are available in Part 1 of this FOA. See your administrative office for instructions if you plan to use an institutional system-to-system solution.

2. Content and Form of Application Submission

It is critical that applicants follow the instructions in the Research (R) Instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide except where instructed in this funding opportunity announcement to do otherwise. Conformance to the requirements in the Application Guide is required and strictly enforced. Applications that are out of compliance with these instructions may be delayed or not accepted for review.

Letter of Intent

Although a letter of intent is not required, is not binding, and does not enter into the review of a subsequent application, the information that it contains allows IC staff to estimate the potential review workload and plan the review.

By the date listed in Part 1. Overview Information, prospective applicants are asked to submit a letter of intent that includes the following information:

  • Descriptive title of proposed activity
  • Name(s), address(es), and telephone number(s) of the PD(s)/PI(s)
  • Names of other key personnel
  • Participating institution(s)
  • Number and title of this funding opportunity

The letter of intent should be sent to:

Varsha Shukla, Ph.D.

Telephone: 984-287-3288
Fax: 301-480-3705
Email: varsha.shukla@nih.gov

Page Limitations

All page limitations described in the SF424 Application Guide and the Table of Page Limits must be followed.

Instructions for Application Submission

The following section supplements the instructions found in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide and should be used for preparing an application to this FOA.

SF424(R&R) Cover

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

SF424(R&R) Project/Performance Site Locations

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

SF424(R&R) Other Project Information

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

SF424(R&R) Senior/Key Person Profile

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

R&R or Modular Budget

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

R&R Subaward Budget

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

PHS 398 Cover Page Supplement

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

PHS 398 Research Plan

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed, with the following additional instructions:

Research Strategy should also include the following elements:

Approach:

Methods for assessing psychiatric disorders/traits

  • For studies in whole organism experimental systems, cellular and molecular models, provide a rationale for the phenotypes that will be assessed and their relationship to the psychiatric disorder/trait in humans

Non-behavioral biologic measures:

  • Identify and provide a justification for the non-behavioral biologic measure(s) that will be used to explore the relationship between the exposure(s) and psychiatric outcome(s) under study.

Resource Sharing Plan: Individuals are required to comply with the instructions for the Resource Sharing Plans as provided in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.

The following modification also applies:

  • All applications, regardless of the amount of direct costs requested for any one year, should address a Data Sharing Plan.
Appendix:
Only limited Appendix materials are allowed. Follow all instructions for the Appendix as described in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.
PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information

When involving human subjects research, clinical research, and/or NIH-defined clinical trials (and when applicable, clinical trials research experience) follow all instructions for the PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide, with the following additional instructions:

If you answered “Yes” to the question “Are Human Subjects Involved?” on the R&R Other Project Information form, you must include at least one human subjects study record using the Study Record: PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form or Delayed Onset Study record.

Study Record: PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

Not Applicable.

Delayed Onset Study

Note: Delayed onset does NOT apply to a study that can be described but will not start immediately (i.e., delayed start).All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

PHS Assignment Request Form

All instructions in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide must be followed.

3. Unique Entity Identifier and System for Award Management (SAM)

See Part 1. Section III.1 for information regarding the requirement for obtaining a unique entity identifier and for completing and maintaining active registrations in System for Award Management (SAM), NATO Commercial and Government Entity (NCAGE) Code (if applicable), eRA Commons, and Grants.gov

4. Submission Dates and Times

Part I. Overview Information contains information about Key Dates and times. Applicants are encouraged to submit applications before the due date to ensure they have time to make any application corrections that might be necessary for successful submission. When a submission date falls on a weekend or Federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

Organizations must submit applications to Grants.gov (the online portal to find and apply for grants across all Federal agencies). Applicants must then complete the submission process by tracking the status of the application in the eRA Commons, NIH’s electronic system for grants administration. NIH and Grants.gov systems check the application against many of the application instructions upon submission. Errors must be corrected and a changed/corrected application must be submitted to Grants.gov on or before the application due date and time.  If a Changed/Corrected application is submitted after the deadline, the application will be considered late. Applications that miss the due date and time are subjected to the NIH Policy on Late Application Submission.

Applicants are responsible for viewing their application before the due date in the eRA Commons to ensure accurate and successful submission.

Information on the submission process and a definition of on-time submission are provided in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.

5. Intergovernmental Review (E.O. 12372)

This initiative is not subject to intergovernmental review.

6. Funding Restrictions

All NIH awards are subject to the terms and conditions, cost principles, and other considerations described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

Pre-award costs are allowable only as described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

7. Other Submission Requirements and Information

Applications must be submitted electronically following the instructions described in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.  Paper applications will not be accepted.

Applicants must complete all required registrations before the application due date. Section III. Eligibility Information contains information about registration.

For assistance with your electronic application or for more information on the electronic submission process, visit How to Apply – Application Guide. If you encounter a system issue beyond your control that threatens your ability to complete the submission process on-time, you must follow the Dealing with System Issues guidance. For assistance with application submission, contact the Application Submission Contacts in Section VII.

Important reminders:

All PD(s)/PI(s) must include their eRA Commons ID in the Credential fieldof the Senior/Key Person Profile form. Failure to register in the Commons and to include a valid PD/PI Commons ID in the credential field will prevent the successful submission of an electronic application to NIH. See Section III of this FOA for information on registration requirements.

The applicant organization must ensure that the unique entity identifier provided on the application is the same identifier used in the organization’s profile in the eRA Commons and for the System for Award Management. Additional information may be found in the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide.

See more tips for avoiding common errors.

Upon receipt, applications will be evaluated for completeness and compliance with application instructions by the Center for Scientific Review and responsiveness by NIEHS. Applications that are incomplete, non-compliant and/or nonresponsive will not be reviewed.

Post Submission Materials

Applicants are required to follow the instructions for post-submission materials, as described in the policy. Any instructions provided here are in addition to the instructions in the policy.

Section V. Application Review Information

1. Criteria

Only the review criteria described below will be considered in the review process.  Applications submitted to the NIH in support of the NIH mission are evaluated for scientific and technical merit through the NIH peer review system.

For this particular announcement, note the following:
 

The R21 exploratory/developmental grant supports investigation of novel scientific ideas or new model systems, tools, or technologies that have the potential for significant impact on biomedical or biobehavioral research. An R21 grant application need not have extensive background material or preliminary information. Accordingly, reviewers will emphasize the conceptual framework, the level of innovation, and the potential to significantly advance our knowledge or understanding. Appropriate justification for the proposed work can be provided through literature citations, data from other sources, or, when available, from investigator-generated data. Preliminary data are not required for R21 applications; however, they may be included if available.

Overall Impact

Reviewers will provide an overall impact score to reflect their assessment of the likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved, in consideration of the following review criteria and additional review criteria (as applicable for the project proposed).

Scored Review Criteria

Reviewers will consider each of the review criteria below in the determination of scientific merit and give a separate score for each. An application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely to have major scientific impact. For example, a project that by its nature is not innovative may be essential to advance a field.

Significance

Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field? Is the prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project rigorous? If the aims of the project are achieved, how will scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or clinical practice be improved? How will successful completion of the aims change the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field?

Investigator(s)

Are the PD(s)/PI(s), collaborators, and other researchers well suited to the project? If Early Stage Investigators or those in the early stages of independent careers, do they have appropriate experience and training? If established, have they demonstrated an ongoing record of accomplishments that have advanced their field(s)? If the project is collaborative or multi-PD/PI, do the investigators have complementary and integrated expertise; are their leadership approach, governance, and organizational structure appropriate for the project?

Innovation

Does the application challenge and seek to shift current research or clinical practice paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions? Are the concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions novel to one field of research or novel in a broad sense? Is a refinement, improvement, or new application of theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions proposed?

Approach

Are the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project? Have the investigators included plans to address weaknesses in the rigor of prior research that serves as the key support for the proposed project? Have the investigators presented strategies to ensure a robust and unbiased approach, as appropriate for the work proposed? Are potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success presented? If the project is in the early stages of development, will the strategy establish feasibility and will particularly risky aspects be managed? Have the investigators presented adequate plans to address relevant biological variables, such as sex, for studies in vertebrate animals or human subjects?

If the project involves human subjects and/or NIH-defined clinical research, are the plans to address 1) the protection of human subjects from research risks, and 2) inclusion (or exclusion) of individuals on the basis of sex/gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as the inclusion or exclusion of individuals of all ages (including children and older adults), justified in terms of the scientific goals and research strategy proposed?

Does the published literature support the appropriateness of the proposed non-behavioral biological measure(s) for probing mechanism(s) underlying the exposure-psychiatric outcome relationship? For non-human studies in cellular, molecular and whole organism models, what is the strength of evidence relating the proposed models and phenotypes to psychiatric disorders/traits in humans?

Environment

Will the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Are the institutional support, equipment, and other physical resources available to the investigators adequate for the project proposed? Will the project benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, subject populations, or collaborative arrangements?

Additional Review Criteria

As applicable for the project proposed, reviewers will evaluate the following additional items while determining scientific and technical merit, and in providing an overall impact score, but will not give separate scores for these items.

Protections for Human Subjects

For research that involves human subjects but does not involve one of the categories of research that are exempt under 45 CFR Part 46, the committee will evaluate the justification for involvement of human subjects and the proposed protections from research risk relating to their participation according to the following five review criteria: 1) risk to subjects, 2) adequacy of protection against risks, 3) potential benefits to the subjects and others, 4) importance of the knowledge to be gained, and 5) data and safety monitoring for clinical trials.

For research that involves human subjects and meets the criteria for one or more of the categories of research that are exempt under 45 CFR Part 46, the committee will evaluate: 1) the justification for the exemption, 2) human subjects involvement and characteristics, and 3) sources of materials. For additional information on review of the Human Subjects section, please refer to the Guidelines for the Review of Human Subjects.

Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Individuals Across the Lifespan

When the proposed project involves human subjects and/or NIH-defined clinical research, the committee will evaluate the proposed plans for the inclusion (or exclusion) of individuals on the basis of sex/gender, race, and ethnicity, as well as the inclusion (or exclusion) of individuals of all ages (including children and older adults) to determine if it is justified in terms of the scientific goals and research strategy proposed. For additional information on review of the Inclusion section, please refer to the Guidelines for the Review of Inclusion in Clinical Research.

Vertebrate Animals

The committee will evaluate the involvement of live vertebrate animals as part of the scientific assessment according to the following criteria: (1) description of proposed procedures involving animals, including species, strains, ages, sex, and total number to be used; (2) justifications for the use of animals versus alternative models and for the appropriateness of the species proposed; (3) interventions to minimize discomfort, distress, pain and injury; and (4) justification for euthanasia method if NOT consistent with the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals. Reviewers will assess the use of chimpanzees as they would any other application proposing the use of vertebrate animals. For additional information on review of the Vertebrate Animals section, please refer to the Worksheet for Review of the Vertebrate Animal Section.

Biohazards

Reviewers will assess whether materials or procedures proposed are potentially hazardous to research personnel and/or the environment, and if needed, determine whether adequate protection is proposed.

Resubmissions

Not Applicable.

Renewals

Not Applicable.

Revisions

Not Applicable.

Additional Review Considerations

As applicable for the project proposed, reviewers will consider each of the following items, but will not give scores for these items, and should not consider them in providing an overall impact score.

Applications from Foreign Organizations

Not Applicable.

Select Agent Research

Reviewers will assess the information provided in this section of the application, including 1) the Select Agent(s) to be used in the proposed research, 2) the registration status of all entities where Select Agent(s) will be used, 3) the procedures that will be used to monitor possession use and transfer of Select Agent(s), and 4) plans for appropriate biosafety, biocontainment, and security of the Select Agent(s).

Resource Sharing Plans

Reviewers will comment on whether the following Resource Sharing Plans, or the rationale for not sharing the following types of resources, are reasonable: (1) Data Sharing Plan; (2) Sharing Model Organisms; and (3)  Genomic Data Sharing Plan (GDS).

Authentication of Key Biological and/or Chemical Resources:

For projects involving key biological and/or chemical resources, reviewers will comment on the brief plans proposed for identifying and ensuring the validity of those resources.

Budget and Period of Support

Reviewers will consider whether the budget and the requested period of support are fully justified and reasonable in relation to the proposed research.

2. Review and Selection Process

Applications will be evaluated for scientific and technical merit by (an) appropriate Scientific Review Group(s) convened by NIEHS, in accordance with NIH peer review policy and procedures, using the stated review criteria. Assignment to a Scientific Review Group will be shown in the eRA Commons.

As part of the scientific peer review, all applications will receive a written critique.

Applications may undergo a selection process in which only those applications deemed to have the highest scientific and technical merit (generally the top half of applications under review) will be discussed and assigned an overall impact score.

Appeals of initial peer review will not be accepted for applications submitted in response to this FOA.

Applications will be assigned to the appropriate NIH Institute or Center. Applications will compete for available funds with all other recommended applications submitted in response to this FOA. Following initial peer review, recommended applications will receive a second level of review by the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council. The following will be considered in making funding decisions:

  • Scientific and technical merit of the proposed project as determined by scientific peer review.
  • Availability of funds.
  • Relevance of the proposed project to program priorities.

3. Anticipated Announcement and Award Dates

After the peer review of the application is completed, the PD/PI will be able to access his or her Summary Statement (written critique) via the eRA Commons. Refer to Part 1 for dates for peer review, advisory council review, and earliest start date.

Information regarding the disposition of applications is available in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

Section VI. Award Administration Information

1. Award Notices

If the application is under consideration for funding, NIH will request "just-in-time" information from the applicant as described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

A formal notification in the form of a Notice of Award (NoA) will be provided to the applicant organization for successful applications. The NoA signed by the grants management officer is the authorizing document and will be sent via email to the recipient's business official.

Recipients must comply with any funding restrictions described in Section IV.5. Funding Restrictions. Selection of an application for award is not an authorization to begin performance. Any costs incurred before receipt of the NoA are at the recipient's risk. These costs may be reimbursed only to the extent considered allowable pre-award costs.

Any application awarded in response to this FOA will be subject to terms and conditions found on the Award Conditions and Information for NIH Grants website.  This includes any recent legislation and policy applicable to awards that is highlighted on this website.

Institutional Review Board or Independent Ethics Committee Approval: Recipient institutions must ensure that protocols are reviewed by their IRB or IEC. To help ensure the safety of participants enrolled in NIH-funded studies, the recipient must provide NIH copies of documents related to all major changes in the status of ongoing protocols.

2. Administrative and National Policy Requirements

All NIH grant and cooperative agreement awards include the NIH Grants Policy Statement as part of the NoA. For these terms of award, see the NIH Grants Policy Statement Part II: Terms and Conditions of NIH Grant Awards, Subpart A: General and Part II: Terms and Conditions of NIH Grant Awards, Subpart B: Terms and Conditions for Specific Types of Grants, Recipients, and Activities, including of note, but not limited to:

If a recipient is successful and receives a Notice of Award, in accepting the award, the recipient agrees that any activities under the award are subject to all provisions currently in effect or implemented during the period of the award, other Department regulations and policies in effect at the time of the award, and applicable statutory provisions.

Should the applicant organization successfully compete for an award, recipients of federal financial assistance (FFA) from HHS must administer their programs in compliance with federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age and, in some circumstances, religion, conscience, and sex (including gender identify, sexual orientation, and pregnancy). This includes ensuring programs are accessible to persons with limited English proficiency and persons with disabilities. The HHS Office for Civil Rights provides guidance on complying with civil rights laws enforced by HHS. Please see https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/provider-obligations/index.html and https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/nondiscrimination/index.html

HHS recognizes that research projects are often limited in scope for many reasons that are nondiscriminatory, such as the principal investigator’s scientific interest, funding limitations, recruitment requirements, and other considerations. Thus, criteria in research protocols that target or exclude certain populations are warranted where nondiscriminatory justifications establish that such criteria are appropriate with respect to the health or safety of the subjects, the scientific study design, or the purpose of the research. For additional guidance regarding how the provisions apply to NIH grant programs, please contact the Scientific/Research Contact that is identified in Section VII under Agency Contacts of this FOA.

Please contact the HHS Office for Civil Rights for more information about obligations and prohibitions under federal civil rights laws at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr/about-us/contact-us/index.html or call 1-800-368-1019 or TDD 1-800-537-7697.

In accordance with the statutory provisions contained in Section 872 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2009 (Public Law 110-417), NIH awards will be subject to the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) requirements. FAPIIS requires Federal award making officials to review and consider information about an applicant in the designated integrity and performance system (currently FAPIIS) prior to making an award. An applicant, at its option, may review information in the designated integrity and performance systems accessible through FAPIIS and comment on any information about itself that a Federal agency previously entered and is currently in FAPIIS. The Federal awarding agency will consider any comments by the applicant, in addition to other information in FAPIIS, in making a judgement about the applicant’s integrity, business ethics, and record of performance under Federal awards when completing the review of risk posed by applicants as described in 45 CFR Part 75.205 and 2 CFR Part 200.206 “Federal awarding agency review of risk posed by applicants.” This provision will apply to all NIH grants and cooperative agreements except fellowships.

Cooperative Agreement Terms and Conditions of Award

Not Applicable

3. Reporting

When multiple years are involved, recipients will be required to submit the Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) annually and financial statements as required in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

A final RPPR, invention statement, and the expenditure data portion of the Federal Financial Report are required for closeout of an award, as described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement. NIH FOAs outline intended research goals and objectives. Post award, NIH will review and measure performance based on the details and outcomes that are shared within the RPPR, as described at 45 CFR Part 75.301 and 2 CFR Part 200.301.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Transparency Act), includes a requirement for recipients of Federal grants to report information about first-tier subawards and executive compensation under Federal assistance awards issued in FY2011 or later.  All recipients of applicable NIH grants and cooperative agreements are required to report to the Federal Subaward Reporting System (FSRS) available at www.fsrs.gov on all subawards over $25,000.  See the NIH Grants Policy Statement for additional information on this reporting requirement.

In accordance with the regulatory requirements provided at 45 CFR 75.113 and Appendix XII to 45 CFR Part 75, recipients that have currently active Federal grants, cooperative agreements, and procurement contracts from all Federal awarding agencies with a cumulative total value greater than $10,000,000 for any period of time during the period of performance of a Federal award, must report and maintain the currency of information reported in the System for Award Management (SAM) about civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings in connection with the award or performance of a Federal award that reached final disposition within the most recent five-year period.  The recipient must also make semiannual disclosures regarding such proceedings. Proceedings information will be made publicly available in the designated integrity and performance system (currently FAPIIS).  This is a statutory requirement under section 872 of Public Law 110-417, as amended (41 U.S.C. 2313).  As required by section 3010 of Public Law 111-212, all information posted in the designated integrity and performance system on or after April 15, 2011, except past performance reviews required for Federal procurement contracts, will be publicly available.  Full reporting requirements and procedures are found in Appendix XII to 45 CFR Part 75 – Award Term and Conditions for Recipient Integrity and Performance Matters.

Section VII. Agency Contacts

We encourage inquiries concerning this funding opportunity and welcome the opportunity to answer questions from potential applicants.

Application Submission Contacts

eRA Service Desk (Questions regarding ASSIST, eRA Commons, application errors and warnings, documenting system problems that threaten submission by the due date, and post-submission issues)

Finding Help Online: http://grants.nih.gov/support/ (preferred method of contact)
Telephone: 301-402-7469 or 866-504-9552 (Toll Free)

General Grants Information (Questions regarding application instructions, application processes, and NIH grant resources)
Email: GrantsInfo@nih.gov (preferred method of contact)
Telephone: 301-945-7573

Grants.gov Customer Support (Questions regarding Grants.gov registration and Workspace)
Contact Center Telephone: 800-518-4726
Email: support@grants.gov

Scientific/Research Contact(s)

Jonathan A. Hollander, Ph.D.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Telephone: 984-287-3269
Email: jonathan.hollander@nih.gov

Peer Review Contact(s)

Varsha Shukla, Ph.D.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Telephone: 984-287-3288
Email: varsha.shukla@nih.gov

Financial/Grants Management Contact(s)

Camilo B. Asuncion

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Telephone: 984-287-4521
Email: camilo.asuncion@nih.gov

Section VIII. Other Information

Recently issued trans-NIH policy notices may affect your application submission. A full list of policy notices published by NIH is provided in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. All awards are subject to the terms and conditions, cost principles, and other considerations described in the NIH Grants Policy Statement.

Authority and Regulations

Awards are made under the authorization of Sections 301 and 405 of the Public Health Service Act as amended (42 USC 241 and 284) and under Federal Regulations 42 CFR Part 52 and 45 CFR Part 75.

NIH Office of Extramural Research Logo
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - Home Page
Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS)
USA.gov - Government Made Easy
NIH... Turning Discovery Into Health®


Note: For help accessing PDF, RTF, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Audio or Video files, see Help Downloading Files.