FY22 Priority Research Areas

Selected research priorities for FY22 are provided below. If you have questions about projects within a noted research area, please contact the program official listed for more information and advice on the application process.

Division of Therapeutics and Medical Consequences

The Division of Therapeutics and Medical Consequences facilitates advances in research and treatment by supporting: 

  • Development of new therapeutic interventions for Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) and drug overdose.
  • Synthesis and preclinical evaluation of potential new therapeutics.
  • New formulation development of existing medications for treating SUDs.
  • Novel approaches for treating SUDs – medications, immunotherapies (vaccines and monoclonal antibodies), neuromodulation techniques (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation or peripheral nerve stimulation), behavioral therapies, digital therapeutics (including polysubstance use or addressing the trajectories of use), and personalized therapeutics.
  • Medical consequences of drug abuse, including their nexus to co-occurring infections such HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections in humans.
  • Identification and validation of new patient-centered endpoints for SUDs clinical trials including those that address symptoms of SUDs.

The division leverages its resources to conduct and support all phases of medications development including synthesis and preclinical evaluation of potential therapeutics, chemistry, pharmacological, and toxicological testing, dosage formulation, clinical trials and regulatory submissions to evaluate safety and efficacy of medications to treat addictive disorders

The division includes the Chemistry and Pharmaceutics Branch (CPB), the Medications Discovery & Toxicology Branch (MDTB), the Clinical Research Grants Branch (CRGB), the Clinical Medical Branch (CMB), and the Regulatory Affairs Branch (RAB). The division also oversees the NIDA Drug Supply Program.   See NIDA FOAs page for the latest funding opportunities.

Research areas that NIDA supports within this division and contact names are listed on the Staff Listings page.  For a list of all DTMC staff and links to their biographical sketches, see the Division Listing page.

Division of Epidemiology Services and Prevention Research

Epidemiology Research Branch Current Priorities

  • Cannabis Research – Research to better understand use of cannabis for “medical” purposes, including the different products used as well as reasons for use, timing, and outcomes of use and impacts on other non-cannabis medication.
    Program Contact: Heather Kimmel, heather.kimmel@nih.gov
  • Trauma Research – Research related to responses to trauma (broadly defined as ACES, early adversity, child maltreatment, PTSD, etc).
    Program Contact: Naimah Weinberg, nweinber@nida.nih.gov
  • Translational Research – Research to generate findings that can be actionable in translation of epidemiologic research into interventions to prevent substance use and addiction.
    Program Contacts: Keva Collier Kidemu (ERB), keva.collierkidemu@nih.gov and Alexa Romberg, alexa.romberg@nih.gov (PRB)

Prevention Research Branch Current Priorities

  • Policy Research – Research to examine the role of policy in preventing substance use initiation, and to directly test the implementation of policies in order to determine their impact on substance use. 
    Program Contact: Sarah Steverman, sarah.steverman@nih.gov
  • Prevention Services – Research to inform our understanding of prevention program implementation and enhance the capacity of systems to deliver prevention programs.
    Program Contact: Barbara Oudekerk, barbara.maurer@nih.gov
  • Social Determinants of Health – Research to test interventions addressing social factors that play a role in substance use initiation.
    Program Contact: Aria Crump, acrump@nida.nih.gov

Services Research Branch Current Priorities

The Services Research at NIDA is particularly interested in the following topics. Across all topics, applicants are strongly encouraged to consider issues of scalability, sustainability, equity, patient and stakeholder engagement, and translation to practice.  

  • Patient-centered models of care – Research to better understand how to adapt existing services into more patient-centered models of care, (e.g., low-barrier access, adaptive interventions, influence of stigma, telehealth, economic and structural barriers of care, etc.). 
    Program Contact: Sarah Duffy, duffys@nida.nih.gov
  • Workforce issues – Research to better understand or improve the capacity of the SUD services workforce or to understand the role of work and it’s impact on the dynamics of addiction and recovery. 
    Program Contact: Julia Zur, julia.zur@nih.gov
  • Improved Measurement of Substance Use Treatment Outcomes – Studies to advance the use of objective outcome measures to be used by patients & families, providers, regulators, and payers to compare SUD treatment and recovery services.
    Program Contact: Shelley Su, shelley.su@nih.gov
  • Justice-Related Research – Research to better understand (1) law enforcement deflection models and (2) the impact of trauma, victimization and contact with legal and social service systems (e.g., child welfare, child and family courts, etc.) on substance use, addiction, service engagement, and recovery.    
    Program Contact: Carrie Mulford, carrie.mulford@nih.gov 
Division of Neuroscience and Behavior

Chemistry, Pharmacology and Physiology Branch (CPP)

The Chemistry, Pharmacology and Physiology Branch supports research on all aspects of the chemistry and pharmacology of addictive drugs. The Branch develops and oversees a portfolio encompassing research designed to:

  1. Elucidate mechanisms of action, structure-activity relationships, pharmacology and toxicity of addictive drugs,
  2. Develop new receptor type and subtype specific agents and
  3. Advance pre-clinical development of new pharmacotherapies  for the treatment  of substance use disorders, emphasizing the pre-clinical stages of target identification through hit-to-lead. 

The Branch encourages applications in the following priority research areas. The subject matter expert listed is available to answer questions and advise on the application process.

  • Basic Research on fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl analogs – Of particular interest is research that is focused on elucidating chemical, cellular, signaling, and neurobiological mechanisms underlying abuse potential, physical dependence, addiction liability and deaths due to overdose of fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
    Program Contact: Kiran Vemuri, Ph.D., kiran.vemuri@nih.gov  (301) 435-4446
  • Novel targets and mechanisms to address opioid and polysubstance use disorders – Research designed to elucidate neurobiological mechanisms and signaling pathways that contribute to synergistic pharmacological and toxicological effects of co-use of stimulants and opioids.
    Program Contact: Sam Ananthan, Ph.D., sam.ananthan@nih.gov  (301) 435-2199
  • Synthetic Psychoactive Drugs and Strategic Approaches to Counteract Their Deleterious Effects – Research to gain insights into the mechanisms contributing to the toxicological profile of synthetic psychoactive drugs (SPD) and to identify potential pharmacological approaches to treat SPD intoxication.
    Program Contact: Sam Ananthan, Ph.D., sam.ananthan@nih.gov  (301) 435-2199
  • Exploiting the Glycome for Neuroscience Drug Discovery – CPP has a special interest in exploring the Glycome for neuroscience drug discovery, in the context of substance use disorders (SUD).  Research areas of interest include but are not limited to: chemical biology of glycans, developing novel tools and technologies to study the roles of glycans in modulating neurotransmitter receptors, neuronal substrates, transporters, ion channels and cell adhesion molecules, in the context of SUD. The use of multidisciplinary approaches to address research and knowledge gaps in the field of glycoscience to study SUD-related biological processes is encouraged.
    Program Contact: Kiran Vemuri, Ph.D., kiran.vemuri@nih.gov  (301) 435-4446
  • Allosteric Modulation in Neuroscience Drug Discovery – CPP has a special interest in research pertaining to allosteric modulation in CNS drug discovery, in the context of substance use disorders (SUD) and overdose. Research areas of interest include but are not limited to: identifying and validating new chemical scaffolds and/or new brain targets for allosteric modulation, identifying the binding sites and interaction partners for allosteric modulators, elucidating their signaling profiles and pathways, and allosteric modulation of both new and established macromolecular targets, in the context of substance use disorder. The use of multidisciplinary approaches to address research and knowledge gaps in the field of allostery to study substance use disorder-related biological processes is encouraged.
    Program Contact: Kiran Vemuri, Ph.D., kiran.vemuri@nih.gov  (301) 435-4446
  • Cannabidiol and Related Phytocannabinoids: Therapeutic Applications and Challenges – CPP has special interest in research pertaining to cannabidiol (CBD) and related phytocannabinoids. Given the therapeutic promise that CBD holds, a goal is to better understand this class of bioactive compounds, especially drug-target engagement in the context of substance use disorder or overdose, and for providing potential new treatment options. The use of multidisciplinary chemical biology approaches is encouraged to address research and knowledge gaps related to the molecular mechanisms by which compounds in this class affect substance use disorder -related biological processes.
    Program Contact: Kiran Vemuri, Ph.D., Email. kiran.vemuri@nih.gov  (301) 435-4446

Genetics, Epigenetics, Development  (GED) Branch

The Genetics, Epigenetics, Development (GED) Branch within DNB supports research on the genetics, epigenetics, and developmental mechanisms that underlie addiction and substance use disorders. This includes:

  1. Human and animal genetic studies of vulnerability to addiction
  2. Molecular genetics and genomic studies related to the response to addictive drugs
  3. Epigenetic mechanisms of substance use disorders and addiction
  4. Cell biology studies of addiction
  5. Development of neural pathways and brain structures that mediate substance use disorders and addiction
  6. Bioinformatic approaches to better model the genetics of substance use disorders, including data integration, methods development, epistasis analysis, and machine learning. 

GED encourages applications in the following priority research areas. The subject matter expert listed is available to answer questions and advise on the application process.

  • Biomarker signatures for the treatment of nicotine and tobacco dependence – GED encourages research towards the identification of genetic, epigenetic, metabolomics, microbiotic, and other omics signatures that can be used as new clinical endpoints for the diagnosis and treatment of tobacco and nicotine dependence.
    Program Contact: Jonathan D. Pollock, Ph.D., jpollock@mail.nih.gov 301-435-1309
  • Whole Genome Sequencing studies to identify rare and structural variants for Substance Use disorder with and without co-morbid conditions – GED has an interest in using whole genome sequencing (both long-read and paired-end short-read sequencing) in family-based designs (trio and extended pedigree) and association studies to identify genetic variants such as rare variants, CNVs, transposons, VNTRs, and other structural variants for substance use disorder that may be co-morbid with other psychiatric disorders on existing sample collections. Applicants are encouraged to propose sequencing on samples where DNA has already been extracted to mitigate cost. 
    Program Contact: Jonathan D. Pollock, Ph.D., jpollock@mail.nih.gov  301-435-1309
  • Omics, Machine Learning, and AI for Precision Medicine to Diagnose and Treat Opioid Use Disorder – GED is interested in the identification of integrated Omics signatures (epigenome, transcriptome, and microbiome, transcriptomics, the proteome, and metabolome) that can differentiate between opioid use and opioid use disorder and predict relapse of drug seeking behavior among abstinent individuals with a lifetime diagnosis of OUD.
    Program Contact: Jonathan D. Pollock, Ph.D., jpollock@mail.nih.gov  301-435-1309
  • From GWAS to Causality for Addictions and Associated Traits – Research that employs big data approaches, machine learning, and novel genetic approaches to identify causal variants for traits associated with addiction to various substances including nicotine and tobacco, opioids, and cannabinoids is encouraged.
    Program Contact: Jonathan D. Pollock, Ph.D., jpollock@mail.nih.gov  301-435-1309
  • Leveraging Functional Approaches to Speed Discovery of Genetic Loci for Substance Use Disorder – GED is looking for approaches that leverage AI, Omics data, and or animal genetic data to validate loci from larger GWAS study using a smaller, randomly chosen sample from the larger GWAS.   In other words, how to leverage Omics and AI methods to increase power and apply these methods to a study on the genetics of substance use disorder.
    Program Contact: Jonathan D. Pollock, Ph.D., jpollock@mail.nih.gov  301-435-1309
  • Use Disorders Knowledgebase (SUDKB) – GED is interested in the generation of a comprehensive platform containing databases relevant to substance-use disorders and bioinformatics tools. The integrated platform will capture all available curated data at the chemical, biochemical, cellular, circuit, and behavioral levels, including clinical data. This open source, controlled access knowledgebase will incorporate all currently available data on known drugs of abuse as well as drugs used for the treatment of drug abuse. The development of this knowledgebase and its integration with analysis and prediction tools in a readily-accessible portal is expected to facilitate addiction research and accelerate the discovery of targets, pathways, and lead molecules for development of novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of substance use disorders.
    Program Contact: Susan Wright, Ph.D., Susan.wright@nih.gov  301-402-6683
  • Endocannabinoids, Cannabinoids and Other Substances in Fetal Brain Development – Research on the effects of cannabinoids alone and with other addictive substances on the developing brain (pre-, peri-, to post-natal brain) using human cell-based platforms or animal models.  The endocannabinoid system plays important roles in central nervous system development, including neuronal and glial cell proliferation, differentiation, migration, and synaptogenesis in the embryonic and fetal developmental stages. Prenatal cannabinoid exposure alters fetal brain development by affecting the endocannabinoid system and dysregulating the dopaminergic, GABAergic, and opioidergic neurotransmitter systems. Research is critically needed to advance our understanding of the roles of endocannabinoid system in the developing brain, the effects of cannabinoids in the absence and presence of other drugs of abuse during fetal brain development, and the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying these interactions.
    Program contact:  Da-Yu Wu, Ph.D., wudy@nida.nih.gov  301-435-4649
  • Effects of Addictive Drugs on Placental Biology and Consequences for the Fetus – GED is interested in supporting studies on the effects of exposure to addictive drugs (either single or polysubstance use) on the placenta and fetal brain. Investigators are encouraged to develop non-invasive methods to reliably identify, quantify and determine the effects of drug exposure on the placenta and fetal brain and long term consequences.  This may include changes of placental structure and function, expression of receptors and transporters, transport activity of nutrients, exchange of gases; elimination of metabolic waste by-products; and endocrine/hormone production.
    Program contact:  Da-Yu Wu, Ph.D., wudy@nida.nih.gov  301-435-4649

Integrative Neuroscience Branch

The Integrative Neuroscience (IN) Branch within DNB supports research to identify the neural circuits and synaptic responses underlying drug addiction to understand the fundamental mechanisms of action, the neuroplastic adaptations, and the functional outcomes that occur as a consequence of substance use disorders throughout the addictive process. Research supported by the Branch includes:

  1. The regulation and neuroplasticity of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission induced by chronic exposure to addictive substances and withdrawal from chronic use
  2. The study of the persistent neuroadaptations that occur as a consequence of repeated intermittent drug exposure, including structural and functional changes in the brain associated with long-term drug use and drug withdrawal, and drug-induced neurotoxicity
  3. Neuron-glia interactions and their modification by addictive substances
  4. Neuroendocrine modulation of neural systems as it is related to drug use disorders and addiction
  5. Neuroimmune modulation of the brain including the influences of neuroAIDS and drug-induced neuroinflammation.

IN encourages applications in the following priority research areas. The subject matter expert listed is available to answer questions and advise on the application process.

  • Neurobiology of the Inter-relationship Between Sleep and SUD – Substance use disorders (SUDs) and sleep disorders are intricately interconnected. Exposure to addictive substances evoke disturbances in sleep homeostasis, while sleep disturbances can increase the risk of development and severity of SUDs. While the relationship between SUDs and sleep is well known to be complex and bidirectional, less is known about the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the intersection between sleep and SUDs. There are several brain regions and neurotransmitter substrates that regulate arousal and sleep homeostasis, as well as motivation and reward. Understanding the neurobiology of inter-relationship between sleep and SUD’s will not only offer an insight into the fundamental processes that link SUD’s to disorders of sleep regulation and vice-versa but may also have implications for managing the risk for the development of SUDs and identifying new targets for prevention and therapeutics.
    Program contact:  Sunila Nair, Ph.D., sunila.nair@nih.gov  301.827.5842
  • Mechanistic Studies on the Neurobiology Underlying Sex and Gender Differences in SUD – Substance use disorders (SUD’s) differentially affect women and men. Despite the recognition of significant sex differences in the characteristics of addiction to various substances, little is known about the underlying dimorphism at the molecular, cellular and circuit levels that drive these behavioral differences. Although several studies have documented sex differences in the transcriptional profiles induced by addictive substances, it is unclear how these transcriptional changes translate to differences in behavioral characteristics. There is also a fundamental lack of understanding of the impact of biological sex in the functioning of discrete brain regions and neural circuits that lead to important differences in the initiation, expression and trajectory of SUD’s. Elucidating the mechanisms for sex differences will not only be critical for guiding individualized treatments but can also be used to better understand the basic neurobiology of SUD’s.
    Program contact:  Sunila Nair, Ph.D., sunila.nair@nih.gov  301.827.5842

Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Branch

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Research Branch (BCN) supports human and animal experimental investigations of substance use disorders (SUD) and their underlying mechanisms. This includes a focus on behavioral, cognitive, and neurobiological mechanisms driving the consequences of substance use and underlying the various phases of SUD – including initiation of substance use, compulsive use, abstinence, relapse, and recovery. We also support research on neurocognitive processes fundamental to SUD (e.g., decision-making, reward/punishment learning, insight). BCN encourages applications in the following priority research areas. The subject matter expert listed is available to answer questions and advise on the application process.

  • Computational approaches to investigating SUD-related behaviors and underlying neural mechanisms – BCN has an interest in combining computational and experimental methodologies towards understanding neurobiological mechanisms related to SUD prevention and treatment. Projects are encouraged to include close collaboration between quantitative and experimental researchers with expertise in HIV/AIDS SUD neuroscience, including scientists from statistics, physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. This includes: 1) applying computational tools towards understanding whole brain dynamics related to SUD, 2) identifying potential subtypes within SUD patient populations by AI-based tools to behavioral, neuroimaging, and clinical measures, and 3) development of next-generation tools for tracking, identification, characterization, and analysis of SUD-related behaviors.
    Program contact: Vani Pariyadath, Ph.D., vani.pariyadath@nih.gov  (301) 443-3209
  • Understanding neural mechanisms of vulnerability and resilience to substance use disorder via animal models – BCN is interested in stimulating research in non-human species aimed at modeling environmental and/or biological risk factors for SUD to elucidate neural and cognitive developmental mechanisms that may mediate, moderate, or predict the effects of these factors on subsequent emergence of SUD-related behaviors. Use of longitudinal designs and developmental-stage-appropriate paradigms are strongly encouraged. Research areas of interest include: 1) identification of neurobiological substrates of risk and resilience and how they are determined by early-life experience, 2) modeling of interactions between genetic and environmental factors across development on SUD-relevant neurocognitive, behavioral and/or psychophysiological phenotypes in adolescence and adulthood, and 3) data- or model-driven analysis of complex behavior captured in naturalistic settings across stages of development in the context of SUD risk and/or resilience.
    Program contact: Holly Moore, Holly.Moore@nih.gov  301-827-7376