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Study sections adapt to changing science

Senior Scientific Advisor,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

As science advances, so must peer review. Designed to ensure fair, expert assessments of grant applications, peer review has to be nimble and adaptive to effectively evaluate ever-evolving scientific trends.

The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) reviews approximately 70% of the applications received by NIH, including those assigned to NIA. To stay on top of the everchanging scope of applications, CSR’s approach has long been to conduct periodic and systematic examinations of their review groups, which are better known as “study sections.” These analyses often result in adjustments large and small to expand or tighten a study section’s focus.

As a result of recent evaluations, CSR made changes to study sections of particular interest to NIA applicants. Some of the changes are subtle, such as simply changing the study section title, but others are more substantial, such as broadening of the section's science scope. What we are seeing is an effort by CSR to ensure that emphasis “across the lifespan” is reflected in the makeup of the scope of the study sections, and more importantly to NIA, that these review groups incorporate age and aging components and expertise along with the scientific scope for their sections.

Applicants should take note of these changes because they could influence which study section will review your application. Always remember to clearly highlight in your abstract and specific aims your scientific focus on the research of aging. Following is a list of the study sections with key changes in their scopes and refinements noted.

Aging Systems and Geriatrics (ASG)

  • ASG will now focus on human subject studies with multiorgan and/or multisystem involvement. Single-organ applications will move out of ASG to the appropriate organ-based study section (with added aging expertise as needed).

Cellular Mechanisms in Aging and Development (CMAD)

  • Most animal studies will be reviewed by CMAD. The scope of CMAD will broaden to include physiology and systems biology, and CMAD will explicitly address geroscience.

Learning and Memory (LAM)

  • LAM will be renamed Learning, Memory, and Decision Neuroscience (LMDN). The scope will be broadened and related topics expanded to include decision neuroscience and areas of evolving science such as artificial intelligence and imaging. LMDN will now explicitly include the concepts of lifespan and aging processes.

Cognition and Perception (CP)

  • CP will be renamed Human Complex Mental Function (HCMF), and aging and cognitive aging will now be included in the scope description. The topic of “navigation (including driving)” will refer to the influence of aging and driving ability.

Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, Rhythms, and Sleep (NNRS)

  • NNRS will be renamed Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, Neuroimmunology, Rhythms, and Sleep (BNRS). Appropriate reference to age/aging will be made in the general section description and its topics. “Lifespan” will be included in the topic of “reproductive neuroendocrinology.”

Sensorimotor Integration (SMI)

  • SMI will be renamed Sensory-motor Neuroscience (SMN). The study section will now include somatosensation and motor control disorders. The terms “lifespan” and “aging” will be integrated into the general description.

In addition to these changes, CSR is considering the idea of adding permanent expertise on aging to multiple study sections.

Also of interest, CSR has established a new evaluation framework termed Evaluating Panel Quality in Review (ENQUIRE). This framework will guide all systematic reviews of study sections at NIH going forward. It will help CSR keep study sections more current and competitive in today’s fast-evolving scientific landscape. ENQUIRE will also better combine expert opinions and metrics while engaging stakeholders like the external scientific community, advisory councils, and NIH Institutes and Centers.

If your research falls into the areas of these study section changes, please take time to read up on them and adjust your future application plans accordingly. Visit NIA’s Scientific Review Branch webpage or email us for more information. Stay tuned to the “Inside NIA” blog for future updates, and please leave your questions or comments below!


Submitted by Bonnie B Blomberg on December 02, 2020

I am on the ASG study section. Those in the immune system and aging used to get reviewed in CMAD - but that went to more lower organisms - and ASG went to more - everything except immunology - so I would like some advice. Thanks.

Submitted by Thomas Gill on December 02, 2020

During which submission/review cycle will these changes be implemented?

Changes for ASG and CMAD are already in place. For the rest, changes will take effect for the May 2021 Council round; starting with the October 5 receipt date, and February/March 2021 reviews.

Submitted by John Hatle on December 02, 2020

Thanks for this summary of changes at CSR that are important to NIA awardees. How might this affect routing of R15 proposals? Do any of these panels intend to review R15s?

Submitted by Rene Etcheberrigaray on December 04, 2020

In reply to by John Hatle

R15s will continue to be reviewed as clusters within study sections or separate Special Emphasis panels. For specific study sections, PIs should contact the respective SROs at CSR.   

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