The National Institutes of Health is the world's biggest public funder of biomedical research, investing more than $32 billion each year—and a sizable amount of that money can be tapped by mental health and behavioral science researchers, especially those who are interested in collaborating with other disciplines.
Several major initiatives welcome a transdisciplinary perspective, even if on the surface they don't sound terribly psychological. Among them are the All of Us/Precision Medicine Initiative, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) and the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) program.
"There are lots of opportunities, if the medical side becomes aware of the skills and content knowledge we psychologists have," says psychologist Leonard Bickman, PhD, a research professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.
His research, focusing on how to encourage people to participate in clinical trials, receives funding from the NIH Clinical Translational Science Awards Program through Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Recruitment Innovation Center.
"If you're interested in applying theory, it's a wonderful world to work in," he says.
Among the initiatives where psychologists are finding opportunities is the All of Us program, which offered $55 million in awards in fiscal year 2016 to build the partnerships and infrastructure to get the program off the ground. All of Us is recruiting its million-plus participants and plans to release funding announcements once the project is launched. Those participants, representing a diversity of ages, races and backgrounds, will share biological samples, genetic data, lifestyle information and health records. Ultimately, those data will help researchers advance a more personalized approach to medicine by identifying biological markers for disease, identifying why people respond differently to medications, developing new ways to measure disease risk and creating a platform to test new targeted therapies.
The project will also collect large amounts of data on factors relevant to psychology, including stress, mood states, health risk behaviors and family and social network dynamics, says William Riley, PhD, director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH.
"As this builds up to over a million participants, there will be a lot of opportunities for behavioral and social scientists to access those data. They'll also be able to apply to add other variables of interest to them," he says. "The longitudinal nature and sheer size of the sample will make a big difference for behavioral research."
Another important initiative for psychology research will be the BRAIN initiative, Riley says. BRAIN began funding researchers in 2014 and continues to accept new applications, awarding more than $70 million to research teams at 60 institutions in fiscal year 2016. The first stages of the project have mostly been focused on building tools that enable scientists to map the connectivity and circuitry of the brain.
"But all of that work is ultimately to understand behavior," Riley says. "As we move into the next five years, the goal will be to take some of those tools and map that circuitry onto specific behaviors. I expect we'll be seeing even more things coming out of BRAIN that have increasing relevance to psychology."