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National Institutes of Health

NIH in a nutshell


The Mission of the National Institutes of Health is science in pursuit of knowledge to improve human health. This means pursuing science to expand fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

The goals of the agency are:

In realizing these goals, the NIH provides leadership and direction to programs designed to improve the health of the Nation by conducting and supporting research:


Through 27 Institutes and Centers (ICs), NIH provides leadership and financial support to researchers in every state and throughout the world. Each IC has its own mission, its own budget (set by congress) and makes its own decisions regarding funding priorities.

The Office of the Director is the central office, responsible for setting policy for NIH and for planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all the NIH components.

The Office of Extramural Research (OER) manages the development and implementation of policies and guidelines for extramural research grants administration, including policies and procedures that pertain to peer review conducted in all components of the NIH.

Research Planning

Setting Research Priorities

Decision-makers at NIH seek advice from many sources when setting research priorities:

The NIH builds its budget by evaluating current opportunities and public health needs while maintaining strong support for investigator-initiated research. The formulation of the NIH budget provides an established framework within which priorities are identified, reviewed, and justified.

In January 2010, the current NIH director, Dr. F.S. Collins, identified five areas of "particular promise… (that) are ripe for major advances that could reap substantial downstream benefits."

  1. Using high throughput technologies to understand fundamental biology, and to uncover the causes of specific diseases
  2. Translating basic science discoveries into new and better treatments
  3. Putting science to work for the benefit of health care
  4. Encouraging a greater focus on global health
  5. Reinvigorating and empowering the biomedical research community

Applying for NIH Funding

An important procedural change with electronic submission of grant applications is that all applications must be submitted in response to a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). NIH regularly issues solicitations for proposals that are published through:

An FOA will detail the information you need to submit an application, such as the application due date, the approximate amount of set-aside funds (if applicable), any restrictions for cost or years of support, any special terms and conditions that may be placed on the award if the application is selected for funding, whether or not you can submit a multiple PD/PI application in response to the FOA. It will also list the contact information for scientific or fiscal questions.

FOAs can be distinguished in:

  1. Parent Announcements (Parent) that cover standing interests and are intended for use by applicants who wish to submit what were formerly termed investigator-initiated or 'unsolicited' applications. Parent announcements are NIH-wide, but some NIH institutes may limit their participation, so check the announcement's statement of interest. Investigator-initiated proposals submitted in response to Parent Announcements must address interests outlined in an institute program description.
  2. Program Announcements (PA) will call for applications with a specific scientific focus. These are usually open for applications for a couple of years.
  3. Request for Applications (RFA), which will generally be open for a single round. They may have a set-aside listed in the announcement or an estimate of the number of awards NIH anticipates funding.

Review Process: the Journey after Submission

NIH receives in the order of 80,000 applications per year. Review of these applications is a two-tiered process, which employs over 18,000 reviewers.

Entrance Screening, duration:1-2 months

Applications are received by the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), who assesses them for completeness and eligibility before assigning them to an NIH institute (IC) for funding consideration and to an Integrated Review Group (IRG) and then a study section (SRG). PIs can request that their application be assigned to a particular SRG and to a particular IC in the cover letter of their application. NIH tries to honor all requests, although it is not always possible.

Review System for grants:

1st level, duration: 3-7 months

Scientific Review Group (SRG)

SRG rosters are posted 30 days before the SRG meeting. Three scientist peers ("2+1") with appropriate expertise, picked by Scientific Review Officer, are assigned to each grant. Before the SRG meeting, the reviewers assign preliminary numeric scores to the application. For more information on review criteria, see Reviewer Guidelines. At the meeting, the primary reviewer explains the project strengths and weaknesses, followed by comments from other assigned reviewers. Discussion is open for all (eligible) SRG members, who vote on the final overall impact/priority score. The main reviewers are instructed to revise their criterion scores after the meeting.

Output: priority score (available 3 days after SRG meeting) and summary statement (available 4-8 weeks after SRG meeting). The SRG makes recommendations based on scientific and technical merit, not funding.

2nd level, duration:  1-3 months

Advisory Council

Advisory Councils/Boards are composed of scientists from the extramural research community and public representatives. Members are chosen by the respective IC and are approved by the Department of Health and Human Services. For certain committees, members are appointed by the President of the United States.

Output: funding recommendation

Institute Director

Output: Award or resubmission

Additional information on the review process:

Recent Awards Data

RePORTER is an electronic tool that allows users to search a repository of NIH-funded research projects and access publications and patents resulting from NIH funding.

NIH Useful Links

Office of Extramural Research:

Funding Opportunities:

Review Process:

Proposal Development:


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