Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR)

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Noni Byrnes, Ph.D., Director of NIH Center for Scientific Review

Guest post by Noni Byrnes, Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR), originally released on the Review Matters blog

An anniversary is a time for reflection on our history, the goals we’ve accomplished, the challenges we’ve surmounted, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Our video, “Catalyst of Hope and Health,” reflects on CSR’s work over the past 75 years to ensure that grant applications sent to NIH receive fair, independent, expert, and timely scientific reviews that are free from inappropriate influences, so NIH can fund the most promising research. Since its establishment, CSR has also sought to continually improve.

I invite you to watch the video to learn about this ongoing commitment to a high-quality, fair review process that serves to advance NIH’s mission. It features former NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and additional NIH leaders such as Drs. Marie Bernard, Anthony Fauci, and Michael Lauer, as well as NIH historian Dr. Richard Mandel, present and former CSR advisory council members, and reviewers and scientific review officers. Grantees, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who pioneered the development of the genome editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, and Dr. Jason McLellan, whose work on coronavirus spike proteins was critical for development of the COVID-19 vaccine, also share their perspectives.

CSR strives to ensure that every application for research funding receives a review that is free from biases, whether favorable or unfavorable to the applicant, as well as other undue influences, focusing only on the merits of the science presented. Former CSR Advisory Council member Dr. Yasmin Hurd commented that those who established CSR “truly understood that … to improve health in America … they had to do something bold in order to develop the best biomedical research in the country.”

We are seeing the results of these pioneers’ efforts and the hard work of all of those who came after. I echo Dr. Collins’ sentiment that the way in which NIH’s peer review has been conducted has contributed in a very major way to advances in the biomedical research enterprise. As noted in the video, any good idea can rise to the top through the process of peer review. And I want to emphasize that key point: “any good idea.” Whether from a large institution or a small one, or from a high-profile scientist or someone new to a field, we seek to shed light on the most meritorious studies aimed at increasing our scientific understanding and ultimately improving the health and quality of life of the populations we serve.

I express my gratitude to all who worked to establish the center and to all the former and current CSR advisors, staff, and reviewers. Over the past 75 years, CSR has been a catalyst for hope and health, and we aim to continue that work well into the future.

9 Comments

  1. As someone who has served & chaired a standing R01 panel, I totally agree that its peer review system–while of course always subject to improvement–is the crown jewel of NIH.

  2. This system, while in principle, is a great idea, in practice is seriously flawed. The system tolerated and seems to support the assassination of new ides if they differ from the status quo or threaten any previous grants. It’s a shame that there only seems to be room to consider funding for ideas that don’t threaten the current directions.

  3. This system, while in principle, is a great idea, in practice is seriously flawed. The system tolerated and seems to support the assassination of new ides if they differ from the status quo or threaten any previous grants. It’s a shame that there only seems to be room to consider funding for ideas that don’t threaten the current directions.

  4. This system, while in principle, is a great idea, in practice is seriously flawed. The system tolerated and seems to support the assassination of new ides if they differ from the status quo or threaten any previous grants. It’s a shame that there only seems to be room to consider funding for ideas that don’t threaten the current directions.

  5. As someone who has served & chaired a standing R01 panel, I totally agree that its peer review system–while of course always subject to improvement–is the crown jewel of NIH.

  6. NIH and DHHS should dissolve the CSR and revamp the entire review strategy and train their people (CSR staff) on conducting a fair, legitimate, objective, and unbiased review.
    1) The SROs should not just be holding degrees (MD/Ph.D.) but should be interested in looking deeply at the expertise of reviewers before selecting them as primary or secondary.
    2) The CSR should ensure that if an A-1 application was judged favorably and scored at the original review and not funded because of one or two major weaknesses, it gets reviewed by at least 2 of the three reviewers who originally reviewed it. If they cannot find the same reviewers, the CSR should make it mandatory that the experts (new Reviewers) must consider the response to critiques in their scores.
    3) If the PIs have not responded appropriately to the earlier critiques, only then should they triage the application.
    4) If they disagree with the earlier reviewer’s critiques, then they should question the previous review and request the CSR/SRO to get this application reviewed by three new experts independently before deciding the fate of this application.
    Unfortunately, this has become a pattern and joke in the NIH study section reviews that the original application is reviewed and received a score. But during the improved A-1 submission, the same application gets triaged in the same study section. This is laughable and disgraceful. We can certainly do better than this.

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