Research Concepts

A concept describes the basic purpose, scope, and objectives of a potential solicitation of grants or contracts. Concepts under development are posted here to alert researchers to areas of NIH HEAL Initiative research interest and to give researchers maximal lead time to plan projects. Please note that not every concept will lead to a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). The NIH HEAL Initiative bases this determination on scientific and programmatic priorities and the availability of funds. Furthermore, even if they do convert, the actual FOA may differ in certain details from its originating concept. For more information, see the NIH Guide’s list of published funding opportunities.

Enhancing the Clinical Pain Management Workforce Initiative

This proposed concept will promote the expansion and enhancement of a diverse workforce of highly trained scientists in clinical pain research through a nationwide mentoring and networking program. It will provide mentoring and skills necessary to support practitioners who seek a career in clinical pain management research. Another goal is to create an environment where early-stage clinical pain researchers can connect and collaborate with early and experienced basic and translational researchers through a centralized network and sponsored events.

Linda Porter, NINDS

Coordinated Pain Care in Health Care Systems

This proposed concept will support research projects to embed effective coordinated pain care into health care systems. The goal is to improve pain relief and health outcomes through coordinated interventions such as medication or injections provided by a single health care provider. The coordinated care strategy could be centered in primary care settings with an integrated referral system to specialty care or could be centered in specialty care programs and coordinated with primary care.

Linda Porter, NINDS

HEAL New Innovator Awards

This concept will support scientists with high-impact, outside-the-box ideas to find novel treatments for pain, opioid addiction, and overdose. Because effective treatment will require highly innovative ideas, transformative, boundary-pushing applications are often risky or at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process. The NIH HEAL Initiative-specific New Innovator Award will encourage fresh and original ideas from young investigators proposing research in areas within the HEAL mission

Christine Colvis, NCATS

Illuminating the Druggable Genome to Uncover New Targets for Treating Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

This concept will promote discovery of “dark” proteins in pain, addiction, and overdose by identifying and validating new targets for pain and opioid use disorder among the understudied proteins of the Druggable Genome. While the number of proteins in the Druggable Genome is upwards of 3,000, the existing clinical pharmacopeia has only a few hundred targets, leaving a huge swath of biology that remains unexplored. Many dark proteins have been linked to pain, pain perception, and opioid dependence. 

Christine Colvis, NCATS

RE-JOIN: Restoring Joint Health and Function

This concept aims to reveal novel approaches to treat pain by understanding how damage-associated molecules from various joint tissues activate pain neurons. It will support mapping studies in tissues from large animals and humans as well as data integration and visualization studies. The concept will also promote technology development to develop 3-D neuroanatomical models of joint tissues. These models will help define global innervation patterns, verify the patterns in human joint tissues, correlate patterns with pain symptoms, and develop technologies to further enhance characterization and/or treatment options.

Bob Carter, NIAMS

Medications Development for Opioid Use Disorder and Opioid Overdose 

This concept is to support research to advance development for FDA approval of safe and effective medications to treat and prevent overdose among individuals with concomitant use of opioids with stimulants (methamphetamine and cocaine) and other substances. Treatment for polysubstance use disorder is a public health priority, given the current alarming trends in morbidity and mortality from opioids and other substances, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 40% of opioid-involved OD deaths also involved stimulants, including methamphetamine or cocaine.

Ivan Montoya, NIDA

Sleep and Circadian Predictors of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Response and Outcomes

This concept proposes a data science approach to evaluate and integrate sleep- and circadian-based behavioral, physiological, and molecular phenotypes predictive of opioid use disorder treatment outcomes. The goal is to produce a predictive model of opioid use disorder outcomes based on sleep and circadian indicators that helps to identify potential intervention targets to prevent relapse and enhance the effectiveness of opioid use disorder treatment.

Aaron Laposky, NHLBI

Actionable Data to Inform Research‐Driven Decisions (Data2Action)

This concept aims to attract researchers who have data in hand and new or existing tools or methods to conduct predictive analyses to 1) use data sources that are accessible and analyzed on a timescale allowing for predictive and proactive responses, and 2) leverage partnerships with key stakeholders to turn research results directly toward decisions and implementation. The goal is to obtain actionable data to provide a precise picture of trends in opioid use and overdose in communities, toward facilitating responses at national, state, and local levels.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Real‐World Data to Address Urgent Opioid Use Disorder/Substance Use Disorder Needs

This concept will encourage development of new methods and approaches to update and aggregate data from existing sources (e.g., electronic health records, claims data, registry data, pharmacy dispensing, and mortality records). Several challenges prevent efficient linking and leveraging of these existing “real world” data in ways that can be used to provide real‐time or near‐real time understanding of a constantly changing drug overdose epidemic. Increasing visibility of such data could provide new insights into the dynamics of substance use, addiction, recovery, and relapse.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Research Adoption Partnerships

This concept aims to build partnerships among researchers and public/private sector stakeholders to help overcome barriers to adopting evidence‐based practices for preventing and treating opioid use disorder. It will establish a national resource center to promote equitable dissemination and implementation of evidence‐based practices addressing the opioid crisis. The concept will leverage partnerships with stakeholders, existing infrastructure, and implementation experts, as well as conduct original trials of implementation strategies within multiple systems of care.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Pathway to Independence Award in Pain and Substance Use Disorder Research

This concept seeks to expand the size of the independent investigator workforce in research areas supported by the NIH HEAL Initiative by facilitating a timely transition of outstanding postdoctoral researchers from mentored research positions to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions. The program will provide independent NIH research support during this transition to help awardees to launch competitive, independent research careers in research areas supported by the NIH HEAL Initiative. This concept will also promote biomedical research workforce diversity of independent investigators in research areas supported by the NIH HEAL Initiative.

DP Mohapatra, NINDS

Social Determinants of Opioid Use: Opportunities for Community- and System-Level Interventions

This concept will leverage existing research programs that target identified social determinants (e.g., housing, employment) and study the effects of adding psychosocial and/or behavioral interventions, with the goal of more directly addressing mechanisms related to opioid misuse and related outcomes. Projects are expected to specify and study mechanistic pathways through which interventions confer their effects. The primary goal of these studies would be to test the impact of multi-level strategies that directly address social determinants of health on risk for opioid use and related outcomes.

Aria Davis Crump, NIDA

Translational Training Awards in Pain and Addiction Research

This concept will provide early- and mid- career scientists who have pain or opioid abuse expertise with hands-on training in translation in industry, academia, or government research laboratories. The jointly prepared research experience plan will be centered around the development of a therapeutic to treat pain or addiction, and the trainee will be expected to receive broad exposure to therapy development, while the translational institution will benefit from the trainee’s pain or addiction domain expertise.

Christine Colvis, NCATS

Research on Fentanyl Test Strips to Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths 

Despite limited evidence, use of fentanyl test strips has increased significantly nationwide. This concept would support research into how fentanyl test strips may reduce overdose death, and how technology could be further improved, including increased sensitivity and specificity.  In addition, examination of barriers to their use and how they might be made more accessible to communities and clinicians will further develop the evidence-basis for their use.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Pain Target Discovery and Validation Initiative

This concept will promote the discovery and validation of novel therapeutic targets to facilitate the development of pain therapeutics. It focuses on the basic science validation of targets in the peripheral nervous system, central nervous system, immune system, or other tissues in the body that can be used to develop analgesics that have minimal side effects and little to no abuse/addiction liability. Research projects must include rigorous validation studies to demonstrate the robustness of the target as a pain treatment target. The overall goal of this initiative is to lower the risk of adopting a new pain target in future translational projects to develop small molecules, biologics, natural substances, or devices that interact with this target for new pain treatments.

Michael Oshinsky, NINDS

Understanding Polysubstance Use and Improving Addiction Service Delivery

This concept proposes to support research related to polysubstance use in which individuals use multiple substances and have one or more substance use disorders. The research aims to expand understanding about the dynamics of polysubstance use, examine impacts of existing policies and services on services and treatment outcomes, study personalized treatment and services approaches to address polysubstance use, and develop effective strategies for using existing treatments most effectively to address the needs of polysubstance use patients. This research is timely given trends suggesting that responses to the evolving opioid crisis should more holistically consider the variety of substances people use simultaneously.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Recovery Support Services for People Treated with Medications for Opioid Use Disorder 

This concept aims to build resources for research on recovery support. Areas of interest include infrastructure support to advance the development of efficacy and/or effectiveness research, as well as pilot and preliminary research in preparation for rigorous clinical efficacy or effectiveness trials of recovery support services or combinations of those services for individuals who take medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Relevant approaches may address infrastructure gaps or test a wide range of recovery support services (or combinations of those services) where rigorous evidence of efficacy and effectiveness is lacking.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA

Harm Reduction Policies, Practices, and Modes of Delivery for People with Substance Use Disorders

This concept proposes to support research related to harm reduction. Areas of interest include developing, testing, and implementing new and existing strategies; expanding settings for their use and delivery; and examining the impact of new harm reduction policies implemented at state and local levels. Examples of established harm reduction approaches include naloxone, fentanyl test strips, safer smoking equipment, and sterile syringes, as well as HIV and hepatitis C virus testing.

Tisha Wiley, NIDA