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Changes to the R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA), and Introducing the R15 Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP)

Photo of Alexandra Ainsztein

Alexandra Ainsztein, Ph.D., is a Program Director at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

photo of John Lorsch

John Lorsch, Ph.D., is the Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Students in institutions with significant amounts of NIH funding, whether they be undergraduate or graduate students, generally have plenty of opportunities to gain exposure to biomedical research. This early exposure is key to engendering interest in exploring careers in science and enhancing understanding of the value of the research process.

Institutions with little NIH funding often offer significantly fewer opportunities for students to do hands-on research. That’s where NIH’s AREA program comes in. Historically the goal of the AREA program has been to support meritorious research while exposing undergraduates to research and strengthening the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support. The AREA program has also supported graduate students at eligible schools, and students at eligible health professional schools.

As announced in this guide notice, as of January 2019, NIH is shifting its approach to how we use the R15 activity code. While NIH will continue to provide R15 research enhancement opportunities for health professional and graduate schools, the name, AREA, will be reserved for grants to undergraduate-focused institutions that do not receive substantial funding from NIH. Today’s undergraduates represent the future of biomedical research and, as such, it is imperative that we support access to research opportunities for students at undergraduate schools across the country.

The AREA program will have its own set of FOAs, distinct from those issued for health professional schools and graduate schools of arts and sciences. This approach will allow us to better track the undergraduates we support at under resourced institutions. Institutions applying for AREA grants must have an undergraduate student enrollment that is greater than graduate student enrollment and, in order to qualify for the AREA program, all the non-health professional components of the institution together cannot have received support from the NIH totaling more than $6 million per year in total costs in 4 of the last 7 years.

NIH will also offer R15 opportunities to support graduate schools of arts and sciences and health professional schools that grant baccalaureate or advanced degrees. We will be calling this the Research Enhancement Award Program (REAP). For these grants the applicant organization (all components) may not receive research support from the NIH totaling more than $6 million per year in total costs in 4 of the last 7 years.

Another change for 2019 involves how an institution determines eligibility and how that is reflected in the application. Since early this year the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, who historically has funded the majority of AREA projects, has been piloting the inclusion of a signed letter in the application from the Provost or similar official with institution-wide responsibility verifying the eligibility of the applicant institution at the time of application submission. The pilot has been successful and as of January 24, 2019, NIH will no longer maintain its list of institutions ineligible for R15 grants. For R15 applications submitted for due dates on or after February 25, 2019, NIH will rely on the institutional letter verifying eligibility that will be required in the application as part of the letters of support attachment.

How will this impact funding opportunity announcements (FOAs)? Existing R15 FOAs referencing the ineligibility list will be expired, including the parent AREA FOA. The AREA Parent Announcement, PA-18-504, will expire after the January 7, 2019, AIDS due date and will not be reissued. Instead, the following announcements will be available in December:

Be sure to look closely at the list of participating institutes and centers on each announcement. Not all Institutes and Centers participate on the R15 FOAs. We encourage you to consult with the scientific contacts listed in section VII of the FOA to ensure that the funding opportunity you plan to apply to is suitable for your science.

The AREA and REAP programs are important complements to NIH’s other types of funding programs. It’s so important to ensure that we are tapping into all the talent pools across the country, not just those in research-intensive institutions and regions, to bring the broadest thinking possible to the research enterprise. To assist you in navigating the program changes, we updated the R15 web page and created a resource to assist institutions in calculating eligibility.

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