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Center for Scientific Review

Mission | Important Events | Director | Photo Gallery

Mission

The Center for Scientific Review's (CSR's) key mission is to see that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews—free from inappropriate influences—so NIH can fund the most promising research.

The Center specifically:

  • Serves as the central receipt point for all research and training grant applications submitted to NIH. Also receives some of the applications submitted to other components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and refers them to these components;
  • Assigns all NIH applications to the appropriate NIH institutes or centers for consideration for funding and also to the scientific review groups within CSR or other institutes or centers for review;
  • Provides the scientific merit review of most research grant and fellowship applications submitted to NIH;
  • Provides staff support to the Office of the Director, NIH, in the formulation of grant and award policies and procedures; and
  • Assists other NIH components in providing information on the NIH peer review system and information about the research grant and fellowship application process and procedures to the scientific community, Congress, other NIH staff, and the general public.

Important Events in CSR History

1944—Public Health Service (PHS) Act (Public Law 78-410, sec. 301, July 1) authorized the Surgeon General to "make grants-in-aid to universities, hospitals, laboratories, and other public or private institutions, and to individuals for such research projects as are recommended by the National Advisory Health Council, or, with respect to cancer, recommended by the National Advisory Cancer Council." The Act also authorized the award of fellowships in the health sciences.

1946—The Research Grants Office was established January 1 under authority of section 301 of the PHS Act to administer several research projects transferred to PHS at the end of World War II and to operate a program of extramural research grants and fellowship awards. The office was elevated to division status at the end of 1946.

The Division of Research Grants (DRG) was responsible for operating and administering a program of extramural research and training through grants-in-aid of research in the biomedical and health-related sciences. DRG retained the operating responsibility until each successive institute was established and took over the programs in its categorical fields. The National Cancer Institute, which already ran an extramural research program on its own, continued to do so.

DRG was instructed by the National Advisory Health Council to establish study sections for scientific and technical review of research grant applications, and to explore neglected areas of research in the health sciences.

1958—Responsibility for research grant and training programs in noncategorical areas, operated by the division since 1946, was transferred to the new Division of General Medical Sciences (DGMS). DRG then reorganized to concentrate on the review of research grant and fellowship applications, coordination of all extramural programs operated by the institutes and DGMS, and operation of the health research facilities program and grants management.

1961—The Grants Associates Program began recruitment and training of professional staff for the extramural branches of all PHS granting divisions, with DRG serving as a primary training focus.

1962—DRG was assigned overall responsibility for coordinating policies and practices for administration of grants and awards for all PHS extramural programs.

1965—The Civil Rights Liaison Office was established.

1966—DRG assumed additional responsibilities for review with the transfer from the institutes of the committee on scientific publications, the NCI collaborative research panel, the environmental sciences review committee, and the review functions of 6 panels of the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Medical Science program.

1968—DRG expanded the computer-based central data system, information for management planning analysis and coordination (IMPAC), to include the fellowship programs in addition to research, training grant, and research career award programs.

1969—DRG became a part of the Office of the Associate Director for Extramural Research and Training. Grants management responsibilities were transferred to the Office of Financial Management in the Office of the Associate Director for Administration.

1970—DRG coordinated the initial review of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration applications for research grants.

1971—The computer retrieval of information on scientific projects (CRISP) system was designed to provide scientific and associated grant identification information.

1978—The Extramural Associates Program was established under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (P.L. 91-648) to promote participation of ethnic minorities and women in NIH-supported research.

1983—The Scientific Review Branch, Referral Branch, and Office of Research Manpower were consolidated into the Referral and Review Branch.

DRG became the central information source for the new Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program and coordinated the scientific review of SBIR applications.

1995/96—DRG moved from the Westwood Building, where it had been since 1965, to the Rockledge Center, located near the NIH campus in Bethesda. Most of the Information Systems Branch was transferred to the Office of Extramural Research in the Office of the Director, NIH.

1997—Under a new Director, Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld, DRG underwent a major reorganization and received a new name: the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The name change reflected the Center's primary mission—scientific review of grant applications—and signaled an expanded focus on developing and implementing flexible and innovative ways for referral and scientific review. The Center was divided into 3 review divisions (Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms; Physiological Systems; and Clinical and Population-based Studies) plus the Division of Receipt and Referral; the Division of Management Services; the Office of Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation; and the Office of Outreach.

CSR also began a thorough examination of its Integrated Review Groups (IRGs) and their study sections. CSR received assistance from 2 types of external advisory groups that reported to the CSR Advisory Committee: (1) IRG working groups, which were established to evaluate individual IRGs (2) the Panel on Scientific Boundaries for Review (PSBR), which was established to assess the overall structure and function of the IRGs.

The review activities of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute of Mental Health—at that time all components of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration—began to be integrated into CSR.

1999—The PSBR completed its Phase 1 report, which defined organizing principles for a rigorous yet fair review and provided recommendations for reconfiguring the IRGs. In addition, 8 IRG Working Groups were developed or under development to assess current IRGs.

2000—Phase 2 of the PSBR effort was initiated to implement the Panel's recommendations. A Study Section Boundary (SSB) Team of extramural scientists with a small number of NIH and CSR staff members was formed to design the first new IRG (Hematology). A 3-year plan was developed to initiate additional SSB Teams and complete the reorganization of the 24 IRGs proposed by PSBR.

A reviewer survey was distributed to all CSR review groups to assess reviewer satisfaction and workload burdens. Ninety percent of the respondents reported that they were at least "satisfied" with their service, and a majority of respondents reported that they were "very satisfied." Reviewers indicated that it takes an average of 30 hours to prepare an average of 6 written critiques and an additional 8 hours to prepare as a reader of approximately 2.5 applications.

2001—Major strides were made in completing CSR evaluation and reorganization efforts. IRG Working Group reports for nearly all existing IRGs were completed. Three SSB Teams completed the design of their IRGs: Hematology; Biology of Development and Aging; Musculoskeletal, Oral and Skin Sciences; and Cardiovascular Sciences. SSB Teams were developed to design 4 additional IRGs.

The number of CSR study sections increased to 153 with the addition of new review groups in the areas of biomedical information science and technology development, epidemiology, muscle biology, and oncological sciences. CSR also developed 12 new study sections to review fellowship applications.

2002—CSR further advanced its efforts to reorganize its IRGs. SSB Teams completed the design for 8 of the remaining 12 IRGs to be reorganized: (1) Bioengineering Sciences and Technologies; (2) Surgical Sciences, Biomedical Imaging, and Bioengineering; (3) Oncological Sciences; (4) Digestive Sciences; (5) Immunology; (6) Renal and Urological Sciences; (7) Endocrinology, Metabolism, Nutrition, and Reproductive Sciences; and (8) Infectious Diseases and Microbiology.

Strides were made in using new technologies to enhance CSR reviews. All chartered study sections were given access to the Internet Assisted Peer Review System, which allows reviewers to post their critiques and later read the critiques posted by others in their study section. In addition, the vast majority of CSR reviewers were given CDs with electronic copies of the grant applications to be considered by their review panel. The CDs are easier to transport and are bookmarked for easy navigation.

2003—Important milestones were reached in CSR's reorganization efforts. SSB teams completed their recommendations for the last IRGs to be designed: (1) Respiratory Sciences; (2) Genes, Genomes, and Genetics, (3) Biological Chemistry and Macromolecular Biophysics; and (4) Cell Biology. CSR also implemented its first redesigned IRG—the Hematology IRG—and advanced efforts to implement other IRGs.

Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld stepped down as CSR's Director. Dr. Elias Zerhouni appointed CSR's Deputy Director, Dr. Brent Stanfield, to be the new Acting Director.

A CSR-coordinated effort to develop new ways to encourage, review, and fund innovative research grant applications was advanced and incorporated into the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research initiative.

CSR restructured its 3 review divisions into 4 new divisions: (1) Division of Biologic Basis of Disease, (2) Division of Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms, (3) Division of Physiology and Pathology, and (4) Division of Clinical and Population-Based Studies.

In an effort to make the review focus of study sections more transparent, CSR gave names to study sections that were previously designated by their IRG affiliation and a number.

The Internet Assisted Review system was built into IMPAC, the grants system used by NIH. Reviewers now access the system through the NIH Commons, the venue for electronic communications between NIH and its principal investigators.

2004—The formal design stage for reorganizing CSR's scientific review groups as proposed by PSBR was completed in January 2004 after the CSR Advisory Committee endorsed the guidelines for the last groups to be reorganized. Study sections within all but 3 of the new IRGs met at least once.

CSR advanced outreach efforts to educate applicants, reviewers, and NIH staff by developing (1) an online video of a mock study section; (2) a new CSR exhibit booth, which was deployed at 6 major scientific meetings across the country; (3) CSR's first Annual Report; and (4) a new CSR logo.

All CSR study sections used the Internet-Assisted Review Peer Review system, and CSR helped advance pilot studies for the electronic submission of grant applications.

The CSR Advisory Committee held its last meeting on September 20, 2004. A new Peer Review Advisory Committee will advise the CSR and NIH on peer review issues and operations.

2005—The Peer Review Advisory Committee held its first meetings to provide comprehensive guidance to the NIH Director, CSR Director, and Deputy Director for Extramural Research on all NIH peer review policies and operations.

Dr. Antonio Scarpa assumed the responsibilities of CSR's Director on July 1, 2005.

CSR received the first electronic grant applications via grants.gov and prepared to receive most applications by October 1, 2006.

A new payment system was developed to replace the Scientific Review and Evaluation Awards system. Under the new system, reviewers attending study section meetings receive their honoraria and "flat-rate" reimbursements for meals and incidental expenses without having to submit vouchers. Reviewers will no longer need to submit vouchers for hotel expenses, which will be paid directly by NIH. All reviewer payments will be made electronically.

2006—CSR accelerated the release of summary statements to applicants and the ICs. Ninety-seven percent of its summary statements were released according to a new schedule: summary statements for new investigators submitting a RO1 should be posted within 10 days of the study section meeting and all other summary statements should be released within 30 days of the study section meeting. Applicants used to receive their summary statements between 1-3 months after their study section meetings.

CSR's Scientific Review Evaluation Award Office reduced NIH travel costs by issuing reviewers nonrefundable airline tickets instead of refundable tickets. Scientists flying to CSR review meetings were allowed to make one change per trip, with NIH covering the costs. Between June and December 2006, NIH saved $5.2 million. When this practice is expanded to all CSR and NIH reviewers, NIH will save over $10 million a year.

Two Web-based electronic modes for reviewing grants were deployed by CSR to improve the recruitment of well-qualified reviewers who find it difficult to travel to review meetings: online asynchronous discussions (secure chat rooms), and video-enhanced discussions.

CSR published data that suggests slight but significant differences in the scoring of clinical and nonclinical research applications are not related to (1) the percent of clinical applications assigned for review to a review group, (2) the greater costs of clinical research, or (3) the clinical research experience of the reviewers. The findings were described in "Outcomes of NIH Peer Review of Clinical Grant Applications," by Theodore Kotchen, et al., published in the January 2006 issue of the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

2007—As NIH expanded its ability to receive electronic grant applications, CSR responded by adjusting its administrative systems and practices. For the first time, applicants submitted their R01 grant applications electronically. In fact, most grant applications submitted to CSR in 2007 were electronic.

After the success of a pilot to shorten the review cycle for new investigators applying for an R01 grant, CSR shortened the review cycle for all new R01 grant applicants. A shorter cycle will allow some of these more than 10,000 applicants to reapply in the next review round instead of having to wait out a review cycle. The ultimate goal is to offer this opportunity to all applicants who need to revise their applications so the best science can advance more quickly.

CSR began a reorganization of its review divisions, by creating a fifth division and rearranging the review groups in its Division of Clinical and Population-Based Studies, now titled the "Healthcare, Population, and Behavioral Sciences Division." The fifth review division clusters neuroscience IRGs from 3 CSR divisions into 1 new division: the Division of Neuroscience, Development, and Aging. Consolidating CSR's neuroscience IRGs will enhance staff interactions; encourage shared recruitment of new SROs and reviewers; improve the balancing of workloads; and advance interactions with the NIH and the neuroscience community. CSR also created a new neuroscience IRG—Emerging Technologies and Training in Neurosciences—creating a home for new study sections focused on molecular neurogenetics and neurotechnology, as well as special emphasis panels to review fellowship and small business applications.

2008—CSR worked to enhance NIH peer review and help NIH identify the most promising research sooner by developing new incentives to recruit reviewers, implementing a major reorganization of study sections, preparing to assist NIH in implementing enhancements to peer review, and other measures.

CSR initiated solutions to recruit and retain high-quality reviewers, while decreasing their burden to serve the government by holding more meetings on the West Coast where many reviewers live, permitting permanent members of study sections to submit many of their applications anytime, and convening more electronic meetings that appeal to reviewers who cannot or will not travel to meetings. CSR also completed a reorganization of its review divisions and added a new one to cluster similar areas of science within the newly realigned organizational units, ensuring more effective and efficient reviews of applications and helping NIH achieve the greatest public health impact.

2009—Following recommendations by the internal and external stakeholders supporting the trans-NIH Enhancing Peer Review Initiative, CSR successfully implemented the most sweeping NIH enhancements to the NIH peer review systems: deploying a new scoring system, using new templates for reviewer critiques, permitting only one application resubmission, and clustering the review of New and Early Stage Investigator R01 and clinical research applications.

CSR simultaneously managed the receipt, assignment and review of the largest surge in grant applications NIH has ever seen. An extra 25,000 grant applications were submitted in 2009 for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, which were appropriated to NIH to advance the economy, science and health. The bulk of these applications—over 20,000—were Challenge grant applications, which were all reviewed by 20,000 reviewers in two-stage editorial board review groups. Stage-one reviewers submitted their critiques online. Stage-two reviewers then examined the critiques and applications, focusing on the impact of the proposed research and assigning the final overall impact/priority scores.

2010—CSR helped stimulate the economy, research and healthcare by assisting the IRS as it implemented its Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project program, which issued $1 billion in tax credits or grants to small businesses. CSR engaged about 120 of its scientific review officers to help the IRS determine which of the 5,600 projects submitted met qualifications, were designed to meet the goals of the program, and had a reasonable chance of success. 

CSR successfully implemented several NIH enhancements to peer review:

  • Reviewers began reviewing shorter applications that were restructured so they are now better aligned with the review criteria to make the application and review process more efficient and transparent.  
  • NIH limited the types of supplemental materials applicants could send after having submitted their R01 and R21 applications.  Since the majority of these supplements don’t effect review outcomes, these limits will reduce unnecessary burdens on staff and reviewers.

2011—CSR Director Antonio Scarpa retired on September 2. Dr. Richard Nakamura was named Acting Director. He previously served as both Scientific Director and Deputy Director at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Nakamura also served as NIMH Acting Director from 2001 to 2002.

CSR developed an Early Career Reviewer Program to (1) train established scientists without prior experience reviewing NIH grant applications to become excellent reviewers, (2) enrich the talent pool of NIH reviewers by recruiting scientists from less research-intensive institutions, and (3) help emerging researchers advance their careers by exposing them to review experience. These reviewers are given light review loads so they can stay focused on advancing their research careers. CSR has encouraged volunteers from different scientific, cultural and geographic backgrounds to apply.

The CSR Advisory Council (CSRAC) replaced the NIH Peer Review Advisory Committee (PRAC).

2012—Dr. Richard Nakamura became CSR’s Director on December 3, 2012 after serving as Acting CSR Director since September 2011.

CSR responded to emerging concerns from the scientific community: Dr. Nakamura responded to questions about CSR and NIH peer review changes and challenges after requesting community input. CSR’s Advisory Council made five suggestions on ways NIH could help applicants with promising research ideas to survive through a period with historically low funding rates. CSR published advice for applicants on moving forward after failing to secure funding for their proposed research and published reminders for reviewers on the importance of basic and innovative research.

CSR established a peer review research unit to make sure that quality of peer review can be evaluated and continuously improved.

To facilitate review meetings that accommodate reviewers who cannot travel to face-to-face meetings and reduce costs, CSR launched/expanded hybrid video and face-to-face review meetings. In these meetings, some reviewers travel to a face-to-face meeting while others attend via a secure video link from their home or office.

Biographical Sketch of Director Richard Nakamura, Ph.D.

On December 3, 2012, Dr. Richard Nakamura was named Director of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He leads CSR's 450 scientists and administrative staff, overseeing their efforts to manage 80,000 incoming NIH grant applications a year and review the majority of them in CSR peer review groups. CSR holds 1,500 review meetings a year, involving about 16,000 reviewers from the scientific community.

Dr. Nakamura has had a 35-year tenure at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where he has served as both Scientific Director and Deputy Director of the institute, and he served as Acting Director from 2001 to 2002. During his time at NIMH, he received a number of leadership awards, including the Presidential Rank Award for outstanding leadership.

He came to NIMH in 1976 as a postdoctoral fellow. In the mid-80's he coordinated NIMH's Biobehavioral Program and later was Chief of its Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch. Between 1997 and 2007, he served as the institute's Deputy Director. From 2007 to 2011 he has been institute Scientific Director. While at NIMH, he also has held other positions, including Associate Director for Science Policy and Program Planning; Chief, Behavioral and Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch; and Coordinator, ADAMHA Office of Animal Research Issues.

Dr. Nakamura earned his B.A. in psychology from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, his M.A. in psychology from New York University, and his Ph.D. in psychology from the State University of New York in Stony Brook. He has expertise in a number of areas, including cognitive and comparative neuroscience, science policy/funding and ethics in science. He has published 30 peer reviewed scientific journal articles, most related to neurocognition in primates.

CSR Directors

Name In Office from To
Cassius James Van Slyke January 1946 December 1, 1959
David E. Price 1948 1950
Ernest M. Allen 1951 1960
Dale R. Lindsay 1960 1963
Eugene A. Confrey October 1963 1969
Stephen P. Hatchett 1969 August 1976
Carl D. Douglass August 1976 December 1985
Jerome G. Green January 1986 June 1, 1995
Ellie Ehrenfeld January 1997 September 30, 2003
Brent Stanfield (Acting) October 1, 2003 June 30, 2005
Antonio Scarpa July 1, 2005 September 2, 2011
Richard Nakamura September 18, 2011 present
This page last reviewed on December 24, 2013

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