The AAMC submitted a letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on March 8 in response to the agency’s request for information on a proposed framework for simplifying peer review of NIH research project grant (RPG) applications. Through its proposed framework, the NIH aims to advance the mission of scientific peer review — identification of the strongest, highest-impact research — while mitigating undue biases and burden for peer review study sections.
In its comments, the AAMC strongly supported the NIH’s objectives and priorities for the peer review process. However, the association expressed strong concern that the agency’s proposed revisions (which would reduce the current five review criteria to three) would not achieve the objectives of minimizing reviewer bias and burden. The AAMC proposed alternative strategies including the implementation of a two-tiered review model, with the first tier for “blinded review” of an RPG application’s research aims and the second tier for consideration of the applicant’s and institution’s capabilities. The association also suggested that the NIH adopt mechanisms to lead to more diverse study sections, mandatory anti-bias training, and the application of a more concrete appeals process. The comments noted the importance of adding specific, scoreable criteria around diversity and mentoring requirements in grants — thereby allowing study sections to more accurately assess an investigator’s ability to foster an environment that supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, mentorship, and training.
Finally, the AAMC recommended that the NIH pilot test any revised framework among several study sections before implementing it broadly, allowing for evaluation of the effectiveness of the proposed framework in a real-life setting.