OppNet Conference Helps Shape Future Research in Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

oppnet_logo.gifNIH held a conference on October 28-29, 2010, in Washington, DC, to generate innovative scientific ideas and set a direction for the remaining three years of the OppNet initiative.

Kicking off the first day, NIH’s Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, stated: “Those of us in the Office of the Director view your first year as very successful.”  Tabak added that more and more individuals in the NIH community recognize that the contributions of basic behavioral and social sciences research (bBSSR) align significantly with the NIH mission.

Deborah Olster, PhD, Acting Director of OBSSR and Co-Chair of the OppNet Coordinating Committee, described the President’s support for basic research and stated that “what has been accomplished in the past year [through OppNet] is quite remarkable.” Indeed, NIH released ten RFAs since January 1, 2010, after analyzing input from the scientific community. Paige McDonald, PhD, MPH, Co-Chair of the Coordinating Committee and Chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Basic and Biobehavioral Research Branch, added that NIH is “really trying to engage the community.”

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The conference was developed to create a new strategic plan for FY 2012 and beyond, with Day 1 focused on further exploring five topics that emerged from the earlier Request for Information and Day 2 focused on identifying new opportunities.

Day 1 topics were: culture and health; cognition and emotion; decision-making; development over the lifecourse; and gene/environment interactions. Day 2 topics were: model animals, human applications; neuroscience approaches to bBSSR; use of bBSSR in future applied research; and 21st century transdisciplinary approaches to bBSSR. Facilitators at the conference included FABBS Foundation President Morton Ann Gernsbacher, PhD, and FABBS Council of Representatives member from the Society for Research in Psychopathology, Eric Turkheimer, PhD.

Scientists participating in the conference raised a number of important issues including how the short-term RFA funding translates into long-term programmatic funding within the Institutes. Participants also raised the concern that some in the bBSSR community do not see opportunities in the RFAs to date (i.e., modeling that is not tied to a particular topic). Others commented that OppNet funding is not really that much in the overall scheme. McDonald replied that “we want to make sure bBSSR has a home for the long haul” and that OppNet will “plant seeds to change the culture of NIH.”

Emerging from the conference was a recognition that there are different languages among different scientific communities (e.g., “mechanism” and “basic” research). Olster pointed out that NIH uses the definition of bBSSR developed by OBBSR, science organizations, and scientists shortly after OBBSR was created by Congress. Before proposals are reviewed, NIH staff ensure that the proposed research addresses basic research issues.  

 Jeremy Berg, PhD, and Richard Hodes, MD, Co-Chairs of the OppNet Steering Committee and Directors of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute on Aging, respectively, were in attendance for a large part of the conference. Hodes described the conference as an important juncture for “find[ing] priorities and address[ing] them short-term and long-term.”

According to William Elwood, PhD, OppNet Facilitator, the conference materials and video will be posted on the OppNet website within a few weeks. Meanwhile, NIH facilitators for each topic are engaged in analyzing the information they received so that it can be presented to the Coordinating Committee as part of the overall strategic planning process.

To learn more about OppNet, visit their website at http://oppnet.nih.gov