DHHS, NIH News  
NIH Office of the Director (OD)

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NIH News Media Branch

NIH Announces Initial Implementation Timeline For Enhancing Peer Review Activity

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that it will begin implementing changes to enhance its peer review system, after an extensive, year-long review. While the peer review system is a cornerstone of NIH, the increasing complexity and interdisciplinary nature of modern research has created a number of new challenges and demands on the system that merit enhancements in critical areas.

NIH undertook a comprehensive approach — working groups deliberated on challenges and recommendations, input was sought and received, with significant dialogue, from both NIH scientific staff and the grantee/reviewer communities. The resulting set of recommendations cumulated into changes in the following four core priority areas:

  • Continue to Engage the Best Reviewers
  • Improve the Quality and Transparency of Review
  • Ensure Balanced and Fair Reviews across Scientific Fields and Career Stages, and Reduce Administrative Burden
  • Continuous Review of Peer Review

"These changes help ensure that NIH continues to be the world-renowned peer review system," Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH director said. "We did the review through a deliberative process, and we are going to implement the changes in a similar way—carefully, with a phased approach, and carefully evaluate the impact of these changes in real time."

Although many changes of the priority areas are currently in the planning process, the first set of key changes for the 2009-2010 calendar years include:

Reducing administrative burden on reviewers and applicants remained a focal point of the peer review changes. Both external and internal communities voiced concern over too lengthy research applications — currently 25 pages are permitted — and a key recommendation was to shorten and restructure applications. Over the next year, NIH will undertake measures to implement shorter applications to 12 pages for January 2010 receipt dates.

Improving system efficiency and decreasing the need for applicants to have to submit multiple amended applications in order to get funded is also a key challenge in reducing burden. NIH is looking at options that will ensure the largest number of high quality and meritorious applications receive funding earlier.

A main goal of the peer review changes is to enhance and improve the reviewer experience so that NIH can continue to attract and retain the most accomplished, broad-thinking, and creative scientists to serve on NIH study sections. To augment this goal and better accommodate reviewer schedules, beginning in 2009, NIH will increase flexibility of reviewers’ tour of duty and will consider using high-bandwidth support for review meetings as an alternative for in-person meetings. As the NIH implements changes, critical training will be available to reviewers, as well as, Scientific Review Officers.

For an overview of the enhancing peer review effort, and to view implementation updates and further details, please visit http://enhancing-peer-review.nih.gov/.

The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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