A Look at WHY Underrepresented Populations Leave Neuroscience Research

In “Factors that Influence Career Choice Among Different Populations of Neuroscience Trainees,” published recently in eNeuro, NINDS program director Lauren Ullrich, Ph.D., and fellow authors bring to light many issues about why women and individuals from underrepresented populations leave the neuroscience field at rates higher than men and Whites. They are less often first authors of papers, publish in journals with lower impact factors, and less often submit grants through the “special,” more honorific mechanisms NIH has to offer.

Continue reading “A Look at WHY Underrepresented Populations Leave Neuroscience Research”

Announcing the New NINDS Five-year Strategic Plan

Two years in the making, we have posted our NINDS 2021-2026 Strategic Plan. This Strategic Plan differs from its predecessors in several ways. First, it began with a mandate that my colleagues at NINDS dream big. Big for patients and families struggling everyday with neurological disorders. Big for scientists around the world trying to understand the mysteries of the brain, spinal cord, muscles, and peripheral nerves. Big for the clinical trialists, the pharmaceutical industry, the science and technology policy makers, the device inventors. Big for health, quality of life, safety, rigor, and public access.

Second, it started within NINDS, with 100 taskforce and steering committee members and nearly 100 intramural faculty, staff, and trainees; then our outside stakeholders, with 140 discussion panel members; and finally more than 120 responses from individuals and organizations to requests for information from the public. Developing the plan empowered our biomedical workforce, engaged patients and advocacy groups, reached out to industry, academia, and our colleagues in government.

Third, it includes both focused approaches to our science and our training programs, and broad, overarching strategies that are part of the fabric of who we are and who we hope to be. That hope is to be the very best possible version of NINDS  and to serve as a model and impetus for the entire biomedical community to become their best, too.

Continue reading “Announcing the New NINDS Five-year Strategic Plan”

Stroke Awareness Month: May 2021

As I look out the window of the room in my home in which I have been working for over a year, it is hard to believe how green the trees have become!  But Spring is truly here, and if it’s May, it must be Stroke Awareness Month.  Over the past decade, NIH and its government, nonprofit, and hospital partners and scientists and health care providers around the country have worked to make people everywhere aware of the risks and dangers of stroke; help people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol; design and test better drugs and devices to treat heart rhythm disturbances and prevent the blood clots they cause; and implement methods for dissolving or pulling out clots in blood vessels in the brain.  Accordingly, age-adjusted stroke rates and death rates from stroke have decreased over the past decade in both men and women and for all races and ethnicities.  But lest we think we don’t have to worry about stroke anymore, we still have lots of work to do!

Continue reading “Stroke Awareness Month: May 2021”

Help Contribute to the NINDS Strategic Plan!

Almost two years ago, I assumed the task of leading a new strategic planning effort to help the institute determine what directions to take over the next 5 years.  A daunting task to be sure.  But, after much dedication and deep thought, we have developed a draft strategic plan and are now seeking to gather your thoughts on the plan and how we should go about implementing it.

Our draft Strategic Plan is posted for public comment, and I encourage you to submit comments on it , including high priority issues we should focus on first.  Please submit your comments online via the webform at https://www.ninds.nih.gov/NOT-NS-21-021.  We set an original submission deadline of March 15th (Thanks to all of you who have already sent in your comments!) and have already begun considering submitted suggestions for incorporation into the final document.  But we will keep the submission interface open and will monitor it indefinitely.  Our Strategic Plan is, after all, a living, evolving document!

Continue reading “Help Contribute to the NINDS Strategic Plan!”

What Can NIH Do? What Can’t NIH Do? How Can We Work Together?

My recent column about post-acute COVID syndrome generated a lot of feedback, and one of the most common questions I got asked is, “Why don’t you tell Congress they need to allocate funding for [Disease X]?  It is so common, so disabling, so deadly, and so costly for patients, families, and society.  You need to tell them to allocate a fraction of their budget to conquer [Disease X].” 

This common question has a very, very simple answer: It is against Federal law for NIH or any Federal employee to lobby Congress.  We simply cannot advocate for ourselves, our scientific community, or specific patient and family constituencies.  We are permitted to educate members of Congress, but even that, only when asked to do so. 

Another question I am often asked is, “Why doesn’t NINDS just declare that, this year, we are going to spend our money on understanding, treating, and curing [Diseases A, B, and C] because they are so prevalent and so negatively impact  the lives of patients and families.”  Each NIH institute has a different way of making its funding decisions.  While Congress has allocated funds to some disease- or condition-specific programs that NINDS leads or co-leads, NINDS generally has not. 

This decision grows directly from our long-term vision and strategy.  Our vision sets its sights on easing the burden of patients with neurological disorders – not a specific type of patient or a specific neurological disorder, but all people affected by any and all neurological disorders. 

Continue reading “What Can NIH Do? What Can’t NIH Do? How Can We Work Together?”