Changes to NIH Academic Research Enhancement—AREA/R15 Program

On December 3, 2018, the National Institute of Health released a guide notice announcing changes to the NIH Academic Research Enhancement—AREA Program. This document is intended to summarize those changes to assist WMU Principal Investigators in preparing R15 applications. There remain some questions that OVPR is continuing to research. This posting will be updated as more information becomes available from NIH.

The current Parent Announcement, PA-18-504 expired January 7, 2019 and will not be reissued.

  • Going forward, the R15 activity code will include two programs:
  1. Academic Research Enhancement Award—AREA for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions
  2. Research Enhancement Award Program—REAP for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools
  • Currently, there are 4 Funding Opportunity Announcements—FOAs active for the R15 mechanism. Two for Undergraduate-focused institutions (these are the FOAs for most faculty at WMU to apply to) and two for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools (this would apply to faculty at WMed).
  1. PAR-18-714 Academic Research Enhancement Award for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions (R15 – Clinical Trial Not Allowed) 
  2. PAR-19-133 Academic Research Enhancement Award for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions (R15 - Clinical Trial Required)
  3.  PAR-19-134 Research Enhancement Award Program—REAP for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools (R15 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
  4. PAR-19-135 Research Enhancement Award Program—REAP for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools (R15 Clinical Trial Required)
  • Not all institutes and centers—ICs that participated in the previous AREA Parent Announcement participate in the current FOAs Please check the FOA and any future FOAs carefully as participating ICs may change.

Summary of changes under the AREA for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions (PAR-18-714 and PAF-19-133)

  • New eligibility criteria. Under these two new FOAs, eligibility criteria include the following:
  1. Only non-health professional schools and colleges are eligible under this FOA (note: we are currently seeking clarification from NIH as to whether this applies to individual departments/schools within an institution that issue health professional degrees such as a BSN). 
  2. All non-health professional components of the institution together have not received support from the NIH totaling more than $6 million per year in 4 of the last 7 years. (Note: WMU currently qualifies under this stipulation)
  3. The qualifying academic component within an institution has greater undergraduate student enrollment than graduate student enrollment.
  • The new AREA for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions, as the name implies, is designed to expose undergraduates to research. The language below from the FOA excerpted below helps clarify what this means:  
  1. The three objectives of this FOA are:
    ♦  Provide support for meritorious research at undergraduate-focused institutions or institutional components;
    ♦  Strengthen the research environment at these institutions/components; and
    ♦  Give undergraduate students an opportunity to gain significant biomedical research experience through active involvement in the research.
  2. The research project must involve undergraduate students and the research team must be composed primarily of undergraduate students.  
  3. An AREA application submitted to this FOA may include other investigators, such as technicians, collaborators or consultants, or other individuals such as high school students, post baccalaureate participants, graduate students, or postdoctoral fellows. However, involvement of such individuals does not fulfill the goal to expose undergraduate students in eligible environments to research. 
  • New information is now requested in the proposal documents. The list below highlights new information that was not requested under the previous AREA Parent Announcement and is not a complete list of what must be included in any particular document under the new FOA. 
  1. The Facilities and Other Resources document must now include:   
    ♦  Description of plans to recruit well-qualified undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds to participate in the research project. 
    ♦  Description of the likely impact of the AREA grant on the ability of undergraduate students at the institution to gain experience conducting biomedical research.
  2. The Research Strategy document must now include:   
    ♦  Describe how the proposed plan can achieve the specific aims using a research team composed primarily of undergraduate students. 
    ♦  Describe how undergraduate students will be exposed to and supervised in conducting hands-on, rigorous research.  
  3. Letters of Support
    ♦  A letter signed by an institutional official certifying that WMU meets eligibility requirements. Please note, OVPR will handle drafting and signing this letter.   
  • The review criteria have also been modified to reflect the different goals of this FOA. The excerpts below highlight some of the new language in the review criteria. Please review the FOA carefully for the complete review criteria. 
  1. Significance
    If funded, will the AREA grant have a substantial effect on the applicant institution in terms of strengthening the research environment and exposing undergraduate students to research?
  2. Approach
    Is the project appropriate for execution primarily by undergraduates? Have the investigators described appropriate plans for how undergraduates will be included as an integral part of the research project? 
    ♦  Does the application provide sufficient evidence that the project will likely stimulate the interests of students so that they can consider a career in the biomedical sciences?
    ♦  Are appropriate plans in place to recruit a diverse and inclusive team of undergraduate researchers. 
  3. Environment

    ♦  Does the application demonstrate the likely availability of well-qualified students to participate in the research project?
    ♦  Does the application demonstrate appropriate plans to recruit well-qualified undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds to participate in the research project? 

As always, please reach out to your Research Officer with any questions.