Note: Summarized here is the most recent NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) discussion of UNITE. However, it is recognized that the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision regarding affirmative action may be at the front of consciousness. NIH adheres to federal law and does not make funding decisions based on race. NIH awaits further evaluation and interpretation of the SCOTUS decision to determine whether there is the need to modify any current policies or practices.
On February 26, 2021, at a special meeting of the ACD, NIH unveiled the UNITE initiative to foster equity across all NIH activities, with a focus on racial and ethnic equity. It has been satisfying to see UNITE develop from a fledgling effort with disparate inputs and viewpoints to a cohesive initiative that is on course for continued contributions to the biomedical and behavioral research ecosystem.
I have had the privilege of co-leading the initiative since its inception. On June 8, 2023, at the fifth ACD meeting since UNITE's launch, Larry Tabak, D.D.S, Ph.D., Acting NIH Director, enumerated some tangible outcomes from UNITE since the publication of the UNITE Progress Report for Fiscal Year 2021–2022.
The developments noted by Dr. Tabak are as follows:
- Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS): Supported by the NIH Common Fund and inspired by UNITE, ComPASS has two main goals. First, it will allow NIH to develop, share, and evaluate community-led health equity structural interventions that leverage partnerships across multiple sectors to reduce health disparities. Second, it will develop a new health equity research model for community-led, multisectoral structural intervention research across NIH and other federal agencies. Twenty-five communities and five academic centers will work collaboratively toward these objectives, with a coordination center composed of academics and community representatives overseeing the activities. The NIH Common Fund committed $154 million for the first five years, with an overall commitment of up to $400 million for ten years.
- Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA): Originally led solely by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, SEPA expanded to encompass most funding institutes and centers at NIH. This K-12 STEM education program is vital to enhancing scientific workforce diversity. There is diversity among this population, and science identity is often developed as early as middle school.
- Research With Activities Related to Diversity (ReWARD) (PAR-23-122): This new R01 award provides an opportunity for researchers not currently supported by NIH grant awards to receive support in recognition of their work in DEIA. It is a great accompaniment to the DEIA excellence in mentoring administrative supplements that COSWD offers.
- Instrumentation Grant Program for Resource-Limited Institutions (PAR-23-138): This program allows the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment for research and educational needs in basic, translational, biomedical-related or clinical fields at resource-limited institutions.
- STrengthening Research Opportunities for NIH Grants (STRONG): Structured Institutional Needs Assessment and Action Plan Development for Resource Limited Institutions (PAR-23-144): This initiative supports research capacity needs assessments and action plan development at resource-limited institutions.
Dr. Tabak also highlighted the Institutional Excellence in DEIA Prize Competition that the COSWD team is leading on behalf of UNITE and NIH. As a reminder, registration to participate in the competition closes September 12, with entries due September 26. A webinar for registrants is scheduled for September 14.
Finally, Dr. Tabak spoke about the UNITE Request for Information reports, published with the unveiling of the UNITE listening sessions and available on the UNITE website. I know that my UNITE colleagues are busily tracking ongoing activities to be assured that we are addressing all items identified by this outreach.
It is a pleasure to be intimately involved with this dynamic initiative to spur widespread, systemic change, both within and beyond NIH. However, the beauty of UNITE is that its approaches to addressing seeming disparities are of broad benefit to the scientific community.
Additional UNITE efforts are in development. Stay tuned for a detailed update on UNITE at the December Advisory Committee to the Director meeting.