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NCCIH Research Blog

High-Risk, High-Reward Program Offers Unique Opportunities for Innovative Research

June 7, 2022

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

If you have an idea for an innovative but risky research project within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mission, I urge you to consider applying for one of the funding opportunities offered by the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research (HRHR) program. This NIH Common Fund program is designed to support compelling research proposals that have transformative potential but might not fare well in the traditional peer review process.

As a longtime member of the NIH-wide working group that oversees the HRHR program, I can tell you that it provides exceptional opportunities for creative investigators who want to pursue trailblazing outside-the-box ideas. Unlike some other funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), the HRHR FOAs do not require preliminary data. The focus is on the innovation and potential impact of the idea. Projects can address any topic within the NIH scientific mission, and unconventional proposals are welcome.

High-Risk, High-Reward Projects Within NCCIH’s Mission

Projects that fit within the mission of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) can be a good fit for the HRHR program. NCCIH has had awardees in all four HRHR funding categories over the years. For example, in fiscal year 2021, we supported Polina Anikeeva, Ph.D., who is developing a method to investigate brain-body circuits using a combination of nanomagnetic and viral tools. We also supported a team of investigators from Princeton who are studying the role of bacterial small RNAs in microbe-host interactions. At NCCIH’s June 2019 advisory council meeting, two NCCIH-funded HRHR researchers presented on their work: 1) Alia Crum, Ph.D., shared her research about how mindsets shape health and well-being; 2) Peter Strick, Ph.D., presented his work on the neural basis of the brain-and-body connection.

NCCIH is proud to have supported groundbreaking HRHR projects by exceptional scientists. The program has enabled us to bring outstanding investigators to our portfolio, leverage Common Fund resources, and support exciting cutting-edge research. 

Funding Opportunities Are Available Now

This year’s HRHR FOAs have been posted, with application deadlines in August and September. There are four funding opportunities: 

  • The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award supports scientists with outstanding records of creativity who are pursuing new research directions to develop pioneering approaches to major challenges in biomedical, social science, and behavioral research.
  • The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects in the biomedical, behavioral, or social sciences within the NIH mission. 
  • The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award supports individuals or teams proposing transformative projects that are inherently risky and untested but have the potential to create or overturn fundamental paradigms and may require very large budgets.
  • The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award is for exceptional junior scientists with the intellect, scientific creativity, drive, and maturity to bypass the traditional postdoctoral training period to launch independent scientific careers. 

In fiscal year 2021, NIH issued 10 Pioneer Awards, 64 New Innovator Awards, 19 Transformative Research Awards (10 general and 9 related to special programs on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or COVID-19), and 13 Early Independence Awards. 

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