Funding Opportunity for Emerging Intramural Scientists: The ODS Research Scholars Program

Table of Contents

  1. Purpose of Funding Opportunity
  2. Key Dates
  3. ODS Mission and the Research Scholars Program
  4. Award Information and Scope of Support
  5. Guidelines for Proposals
  6. Proposal Format
  7. Submission of Proposals via DPCPSI/ODS Co-Funding Dashboard
  8. Evaluation of ODS Research Scholar Proposals
  9. Expectations of Funded Scholars
  10. Contact Information

I. Purpose of Funding Opportunity

The purpose of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) Research Scholars Program is to support emerging NIH intramural scientists to conduct research on the role of dietary supplements and/or their ingredients in health promotion and disease prevention. Emerging intramural scientists include early career or junior research scholars, scientists, clinicians, and fellows with at least 1 year of postdoctoral research experience. All applicants must have obtained their terminal research degree within the last 10 years. Senior Principal Investigators (PI), Senior Staff Scientists and Clinicians, or PIs who have received NIH R01-equivalent research funding, are not eligible to apply. Applicants must have an assigned mentor within the NIH Intramural Research Program. 

II. Key Dates

  August—September, 2023     (Optional:)  Email of intent with brief description and/or questions.
  October 6, 2023   Proposals uploaded to DPCPSI/ODS Co-Funding Dashboard    
  Late October 2023   Proposals evaluated by ODS
  Mid November 2023   Notifications of ODS evaluation outcome 

III. ODS Mission and the Research Scholar Program

The mission of ODS is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for the U.S. population.

Additionally, ODS supports research and training programs that build future research capacity for studying the role of dietary supplements in health and disease prevention. The ODS Research Scholars program is designed to stimulate long-term career interest in pursuing dietary supplement-related research.

ODS supports all types of biomedical research, including pre-clinical, clinical, behavioral, and epidemiological, in which the primary emphasis is the investigation of dietary supplements and/or their ingredients. As defined by Congress in the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a dietary supplement is a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet; contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances) or their constituents; and is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid. ODS research interests are not limited to specific health conditions, organ systems, or population groups.

Support is available for new projects, including pilot or feasibility studies; collection of preliminary data; secondary data analysis of existing data; small, self-contained research projects; and development of new research technologies. Projects may be related to, or build upon, research led by a mentor or co-mentor, but may not duplicate or substitute for specific aims of the mentor’s research. The mentor’s project need not be focused on dietary supplements.

Primary consideration for support will be given to proposals that:

  • seek to clarify gaps where dietary supplement research is lacking or lagging 
  • investigate the balance between health benefits and risks where data are conflicting or inconclusive 
  • target special population groups where additional research on supplements is needed
  • focus on the use of supplements and/or their ingredients in improving or maintaining health and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

Another ODS funding priority is to enhance collaborations between multidisciplinary researchers from different NIH laboratories or institutes. ODS encourages applications when the scholar would have the opportunity to learn and apply new methodology to their research.

Due to constrained budgets, ODS mission-relevant research will be focused on the above areas. ODS will not accept grant applications that have disease treatment as a focus.

Examples of research projects that are within the mission of ODS

  • Investigations of the role of dietary supplements in maintaining a healthy immune system and promoting resilient health outcomes in healthy and at-risk populations.
  • Intervention studies that examine the role of the microbiome in mediating the beneficial health effects of botanical dietary supplements.
  • Utilization of “omics” technologies such as metabolomics or proteomics to evaluate biomarkers of total nutrient intake (from diet and dietary supplements) in cohort studies or projects that use novel biomarkers in randomized controlled trials of dietary supplements.
  • Studies that investigate the contrasting effects of dietary supplements on certain diseases or health conditions (e.g. folic acid and its effects on neural tube defects and colon cancer).
  • Intervention studies that examine the effects of dietary supplements on maintenance of optimal health or reduction of disease risk when supplement interventions alter physiological endpoints or other health outcomes (e.g., a study that examines the physiologic or mechanistic effects of St. John’s wort on depression or a study assessing the effects of calcium supplements on bone mass density and the reduced risk of osteoporosis).
  • Studies that elucidate the physiological or biochemical role of single ingredients or complex mixtures by examining the transport, metabolism, mechanism of action, associated enzymes, binding sites, regulatory mechanisms or excretion of dietary supplements (e.g., a study to investigate the transport and metabolism of orally administered folic acid or a study to evaluate the mechanism of action of the various components in Panax ginseng).

Examples of research projects that typically fall outside the scope of ODS:

  • Studies that do not give the supplement by mouth  (e.g. IV or dermal).
  • Studies that administer the supplement to treat a disease process or outcome such as atherosclerosis or depression without evaluation of the supplement’s effect on the underlying mechanism of action, bioavailability, or metabolic pathways.
  • Human, animal, or laboratory studies that correlate physiological levels of dietary supplement ingredients, their metabolites, or marker compounds with disease risk, physiological endpoints, or other health outcomes without the administration of a dietary supplement (e.g., a human study correlating serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D and risk of hip fracture, or a human study correlating serum levels of folate and cardiovascular disease).
  • Studies evaluating the effect of whole foods that could be considered “functional foods” such as broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, garlic, soy, and flaxseed. However, if a food ingredient in a defined form is being investigated (e.g., a garlic capsule, a soy or phytoestrogen supplement, EGCG in a green tea supplement, or dried ginger root in a tea bag), then the study could be within the scope of ODS.
  • Studies that involve dietary ingredients used to treat inborn errors of metabolism, such as a study investigating the use of tyrosine to treat phenylketonuria.  However, if the research is focused on identifying the mechanism of action, it could be considered within scope.
  • Studies of compounds that are classified as drugs, such as the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and insulin. 

IV. Award Information and Scope of Support

ODS funding is limited to $100,000 and is designed for research projects that can be completed within 1 year of the award date.  

Funds may be used for supplies, equipment, and analyses. The funding is not meant to replace salary support provided through an NIH stipend.

Funds may not be used to support research needs of more than one scholar candidate.

V. Guidelines for Proposals 

  • Scholar candidates must be full-time appointees at an NIH intramural laboratory at the time of proposal submission. 
  • Scholar candidates are required to commit a minimum of 9 person months of effort (i.e., 75% of full-time effort) to their research project. Candidates may engage in other duties as part of the effort not covered by this award, if such duties do not interfere with or detract from the proposed research program.
  • The proposal should be written by the scholar candidate but reviewed by the mentor before submission to ODS.
  • Research projects should be conducted in accordance with the Guidelines for the Conduct of Research of the NIH Intramural Research Program. 
  • For clinical studies investigating dietary supplements and/or supplement ingredients, the supplement should be administered in physiologically relevant forms and concentrations and must be administered orally.
  • In studies employing dietary assessments or surveys, questions about dietary supplement use must be included, and the survey instruments should be validated.
  • A rationale for how the proposed research fits within the mission of ODS should be included in the cover letter or executive summary in the proposal (See ODS Strategic Plan Goals).
  • Investigators conducting clinical studies must contact the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at FDA to determine whether an Investigational New Drug (IND) application is required.
  • Information demonstrating that the dietary supplement and controls or placebos adhere to the Policy for Natural Products Integrity of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) will be required before funding. (An ODS summary of the policy is provided for your reference here: Minimum Criteria: Assessment of Dietary Supplement Ingredient Integrity.) Additional requirements for characterizing dietary supplements and/or their ingredients for clinical trials, animal studies, and the special case of probiotics can be found in NCCIH Policy: Natural Product Integrity. Additional information about natural product characterization can be found in The Importance of Natural Product Characterization and Integrity for Dietary Supplement Research.
  • For studies that measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] in biological samples, the PI is required to use National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standard reference materials to assure clinical data integrity and is encouraged to participate in the Vitamin D External Quality Assessment Scheme (DEQAS)external link disclaimer.  
  • Analytic methods must be adequately described and must be demonstrated to be scientifically valid (accurate and precise) and suitable for their intended purpose.

VI. Proposal Format 

Research proposals, including all required elements, may be prepared using MS Word (or other word processor) but must be saved as a single pdf file. While there is no maximum number of pages for the entire file, the Research Plan section should not exceed 6 pages, including text, tables, graphs, and figures.  

The following information should be included in the proposal:
  1. Cover letter 
    • The cover letter should include a statement of support from the candidate’s mentor (or candidate’s PI, if different from the mentor). 
    • The cover letter should contain the signatures of the:
      • scholar candidate
      • mentor (or candidate’s PI, if different from the mentor)
      • division or branch chief
      • IC scientific director or IC director. 
  2. Executive Summary/Abstract
  3. Research Plan (maximum 6 pages)
    • Introduction 
      • Background to the research problem (rationale), significance of the research, strengths and weaknesses of prior research conducted to date and gaps remaining, and a hypothesis of proposed research.
    • Specific Aims 
    • Experimental design and methods 
      • Study design
      • Methods 
      • Outcomes (primary, secondary)
      • Statistical methods, power calculations, data analysis planned
      • Randomization details (if applicable)
      • Subject inclusion and exclusion criteria (if applicable)
      • The chemical/biological composition and standardization of the intervention (both the dietary supplement and any experimental diets)
  4. Budget
  5. Product Integrity
    • Appropriate product integrity information as well as any additional material related to the authentication of key biological and/or chemical resources.
  6. Biosketches 
    • Include biosketches for  the scholar candidate, mentor (or candidate’s PI, if different from the mentor), and co-mentors (if applicable)
  7. Training Plan for Scholar Candidate 
    • The candidate and the mentor are jointly responsible for preparing the training plan. It must be designed to develop the necessary knowledge and research skills in scientific areas relevant to the young scientist’s career goals. The sponsor/mentor may form an advisory committee to assist in developing a program of study or to monitor the candidate’s progress through the training. 
    • The training plan should be signed by the mentor and the candidate
    • Training plan timeline 
    • The training plan should include:
      • A description of the candidate’s professional responsibilities in their current NIH research position.
      • A statement of the candidate’s objectives and long-term career goals.
      • A description of the candidate’s prior training and research efforts to date, including any publications, previous research interests, and experience.
      • A description of the mentor’s role in the training plan and how expectations, deliverables, and oversight of the trainee will occur.
      • Description of any other mentors and their role(s) in the candidate’s training plan.
      • Description of the research and educational resources of the institution and laboratory that will promote the candidate’s research independence. 
  8. References   

VII.  Submission of Proposals via DPCPSI/ODS Co-Funding Dashboard

To be considered for a Research Scholar Award, proposals must be submitted through the DPCPSI/ODS Co-Funding Request Dashboard. The scholar candidate or an Intramural IC designee may submit the request and will need to be logged into the NIH network (with an NIH PIV card or login credentials).

  • The DPCPSI/ODS Co-Funding Request Dashboard link will open a Request Form that will automatically show the requestor’s name, IC, and request FY.  
  • FY2024 should be selected.
  • Under OD Office, select “ODS”.
  • Under Project Type, select “6. Intramural”.  
  • For IC Program Officer, enter N/A
  • For PI / POC name, and for PI / POC Email, enter the scholar candidate’s name and email 
  • Under the Amount of Co-funding Requested, beside Requested Amount from OD Office, and under FY2024, enter the total amount being requested (not to exceed $100,000).   
  • In the text box “Justification for request”, enter a brief justification for the request.
  • Under ODS Specific Data:
    • In response to “ODS Scholars Research Program?” Select Yes.
    • In response to “Does the application respond to the following ODS Strategic Goals? (Check all that apply)” check one or more boxes as appropriate.
    • Select the most appropriate responses from the drop-down selections for Dietary and Health Components, and Research Study Type.  
  • Under Attachments, select Choose Files, and upload the candidate’s Proposal pdf file. The pdf file name should incorporate the candidate’s last name, e.g., “Collins_ScholarProposal.pdf”.
  • Hit “Submit” when the Request Form is complete, and the pdf file is attached. If it is not possible to complete the Request Form in one session, hit “Save Draft” and the draft will be saved in the Co-Funding Dashboard; the requestor must return to the Dashboard to complete the Form and then hit “Submit” to upload the final version.  

VIII.  Evaluation of ODS Research Scholar Proposals

Proposals will be evaluated by ODS scientific staff. Evaluation criteria will include the scientific premise of the proposed research; organization and clarity of the written proposal; coherence of the training plan; and relevance to the ODS mission.

IX. Expectations of Funded Scholars

  1. Present their research findings at the ODS Scholars Symposium that will occur in the fall/winter of the FY following the award (date to be determined).
  2. In all publications, reports, or presentations regarding the awardee’s research project, acknowledge the financial support of ODS.
  3. Provide ODS with copies of any publications, reports, or presentations resulting from the project. 
  4. Provide a final report to ODS within 6 months of project completion (format to be posted on the ODS website).
  5. Participate in the ODS Mary Frances Picciano Dietary Supplement Research Practicum during the spring following the date of award (date to be posted on the ODS website).

X. Contact Information

Direct any inquiries regarding the ODS Scholars Programs and (if desired) an intent to submit email to:

Patricia A. Haggerty, Ph.D. 
Director, Grants and Extramural Programs
Office of Dietary Supplements
[email protected]