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American Heart Association’s
Strategically Focused Research Networks
 General Application Information

Background

The American Heart Association (AHA) is a non-profit, voluntary health organization funded by private contributions. The mission of the AHA is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The Guiding Values of the organization include:

  • Improving and Extending People’s Lives
  • Bringing Science to Life
  • Speaking with a Trustworthy Voice
  • Building Powerful Partnerships
  • Inspiring Passionate Commitment
  • Meeting People Where They Are
  • Making an Extraordinary Impact
  • Ensuring Equitable Health for All

A leading priority of the AHA is to fund research that increases an understanding of the etiology, pathophysiology, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

The AHA has a tradition of support for research spanning more than 65 years. Research is the foundation of all other aspects of the AHA’s lifesaving work, generating a tremendous impact on people’s lives. After the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the AHA is the leading funder of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke research in the U.S. with over $4 billion invested in research since 1949. The AHA has adopted a goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by the year 2020.

Strategically Focused Research Network


Figure 1: AHA Strategically Focused Research Network Structure
Figure 1: AHA Strategically Focused Research Network Structure
A Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN) is a mechanism that provides AHA an opportunity to address key strategic issues as determined by the AHA Board of Directors. Specific SFRNs focus on the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a particular research topic of interest. Three to five (3-5) Research Centers will make up the Network (diagrammed in Figure 1 for illustrative purposes) and will be supported for a period of four (4) years. These Centers will constitute the Network and will be awarded a total of $12-20 million over that period (including costs for Network oversight and administration). The desired characteristics of these Centers, the general requirements of the application, and the peer review criteria are described in this document.

Centers seek to have basic, clinical and/or population/behavioral health teams join together and submit proposals which address the designated topic via their individual areas of expertise. A Center may be sited at one or at multiple U.S. institutions under the leadership of one. Each Center applies for funding individually and is peer reviewed by the AHA. The most meritorious Center applications and their research projects will be combined by the AHA to form an AHA Strategically Focused Research Network. Broad collaborations for expertise are highly encouraged. A Center’s application can consist of three (3) proposals from their one (1) institution; or they can reach out and bring in other projects from other institutions. For example: a basic project could come from laboratory X in Delaware; a clinical project from hospital Y in Texas and a population/ translational project from University Z in California, with the primary applicant being any of these institutions.

It should be noted that the increased availability of consumer-oriented health tools and social media, among others, has created new opportunities for natural experiments and novel interventions that could inform the development of effective health behavior change strategies that might improve disparities in risk factor control or enhance patient recovery. Multidisciplinary research that takes advantage of such innovative tools could also fall within the scope of these Networks. Furthermore, collaboration is encouraged with social and behavioral scientists, health policy experts, community-facing organizations and other experts to identify programs that effectively aid individuals in beneficial lifestyle modifications or engage clinical interventions in a fashion that unequivocally reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke or improves outcomes after an event.

Program Structure

The Network will include:

  • Three-five (3-5) Centers working together to advance research on the designated topic
  • One (1) Oversight Advisory Committee
  • Nine to fifteen (9-15) post-doctoral fellows over the course of four years, three at each Center.
  • Nine to fifteen (9-15) research projects: Each Center must have three (3) research projects in basic, clinical, population science disciplines as mandated by each RFA. All will focus on the determined research area or disease.

Each Center will:

  • Conduct three (3) synergistic research projects of scope equivalent to a R01
  • Provide a training program for fellows; training three (3) Center-funded postdoctoral fellows during the period of the award
  • Be linked to the other Centers by AHA-organized interactions and meetings with the intent to accelerate exchange of ideas, encourage sharing of commonly-useful knowledge and methods, facilitate collaboration, and provide networking opportunities for trainees
  • Report annually on its efforts towards integration with the other centers, as well as observations on successes/challenges of such integration
  • Interact as part of the AHA Strategically Focused Research Network according to the Collaboration Expectations outlined in this RFA and further defined by the Oversight Advisory Committee

Network Intent

The AHA is committed to an investment of $12-20 million to establish each Network, which will provide almost $4 million per Center.

The AHA intends to fund three-five (3-5) Centers that will encompass the following goals:

  • Accelerate generation of important, novel ideas
  • Answer significant questions addressing gaps in knowledge
  • Yield important gains in knowledge and research capacity (developing new investigators is one such gain)
  • Link research and training components through the program
  • Prioritize multidisciplinary approaches with frequent collaborative interactions within the Centers and across the Network
  • Demonstrate productive and effective data collection and evaluation
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness or the applicability of clinical findings in clinical, public health or community-based settings such as workplaces, schools, churches or other “real-life” settings

It is anticipated that the results of the funding and formation of an AHA Strategically Focused Research Network will:

  • Produce a cadre of new investigators who will energize the field of research and generate an expansion of the numbers of such investigators in later years
  • Produce new research results based on the initial ideas of the funded Centers and on ideas generated by the collaboration of the Centers and their investigators
  • Provide insights into and report on both successful mechanisms for and the challenges to active collaboration
  • Identify programs that focus on the designated research topic/disease to reduce gender, racial and ethnic disparities through a variety of approaches that could include seeking better understanding of disease etiology, pathophysiology, treatment, prevention and health care delivery across the lifespan

Although successful applicants are asked to demonstrate the effectiveness of the research by articulating a plan proposing how the results could be implemented in clinical or public health settings, this does not guarantee that funds will be available for the proposed implementation. It is strongly preferred that successful applicants articulate such a plan, as it will assist the AHA in furthering its mission by exploring opportunities to advance the research findings.

Key Requirements Application

This RFA embraces a Network “Center” concept. Thus, it is expected that three (3) studies will be submitted from each Center applying to be in the Network, and to have an integration of these studies within each Center. Each Center will include several components: a designated Center Director, three (3) synergistic projects related to the topic of interest, and a research postdoctoral fellowship training component. Centers should also demonstrate a high degree of collaboration by working on one comprehensive research focus across all sites.

The development of each Center will be the responsibility of the Center Director, who will coordinate the projects and the training program, to ensure that they are not only complementary, but also effective in producing a greater outcome than if they were executed individually. The Director will provide administrative and scientific leadership and will be responsible for the organization and operation of the Center, and for communication with the AHA Strategically Focused Research Network Oversight Advisory Committee. Each Center application must name one Center Director. If strong rationale is provided, an opportunity exists to train a future Center Director within the terms of the grant period. If this option is selected, compelling justification must be provided within the narrative of the Center application.

A major component of the Centers will be their ability to implement a successful program for the interdisciplinary training of a new generation of scientists who, from their earliest experiences in research, will collaborate with other scientists through monthly meetings with established investigators and annual meetings with other investigators participating in the Centers. An ultimate product of this program will be the creation of a report on the challenges and results of active collaboration as well as on training in such a model.

Postdoctoral Fellowship Training Requirements:

  • Each Center will provide a multidisciplinary training program to give fellows basic, clinical, population, and translational research experience.
  • Each Center will train three (3) fellows during the period of the award (three two-year fellowships starting in years 1, 2, and 3, respectively). Individual development plans for each trainee will be utilized.
  • Each Center will provide professional, non-medical training to develop and enhance presentation and communication skills.

Centers will be expected to utilize current principles of effective adult education in their programs.

Collaboration

One of the key objectives of this initiative is to encourage interaction among the Strategically Focused Research Network Centers, both in training and research efforts. An important component of the initiative is a multi-disciplinary approach both within and among Centers that comprise the Network. The structure of the Network will include sufficient components to maximize the interaction and collaboration among the named Strategically Focused Research Centers. The AHA Oversight Advisory Committee will monitor and encourage interactive and collaborative activities, and develop and implement a plan for regular dialogue among the Center participants. The entire network will operate as a team.

Once awarded, there is an expectation that the three to five (3-5) Centers will interact with each other to provide networking opportunities for trainees, to encourage sharing of commonly-useful knowledge and methods, to educate each other on unique knowledge and methods and to provide a stimulating atmosphere for research collaborations. Strategies for communication and interaction among the Centers should be addressed in the proposal and could include ways to encourage interaction, augment or expand study findings, share training opportunities for fellows and junior investigators, etc.

All key Center personnel will be expected to participate in annual meetings and other activities such as routine tele/videoconferences to facilitate interaction and collaboration. Annual progress reports describing each Center’s efforts and financial commitments towards integration, as well as a report on successes/challenges of such efforts, will be required.

Centers selected for funding will be expected to interact and develop new hypotheses leading to collaborative projects. The collaborating Centers are expected to share everything from “samples to ideas.” The Centers will be expected to work with the AHA Oversight Advisory Committee to define the strategies for leadership in training and interdisciplinary collaboration, as well as a clear commitment to collaboration with the other disciplines and other centers within the Network. Collaborations within the Network need not be limited to single projects, but could be transformative for the overall work of the Network if approved by the Oversight Advisory Committee.

Collaboration Requirements:

  • Centers will be expected to meet and collaborate with each other through interactions and meetings to accelerate information exchange and ideas. Specifically:
    • Center Directors will participate in quarterly teleconferences
    • Training Directors (and fellows) will participate in monthly teleconferences
    • All key Center personnel (Center Director, Training Director, Project PIs and fellows) will attend Annual Scientific Meetings
    • All key Center personnel will participate in a teleconference to provide progress updates to the Oversight Committee at 6 month intervals
  • Directors and investigators are expected to provide and share in networking and cross-training opportunities for postdoctoral trainees in conjunction with at least one other Center in the Network.
  • Each center will be expected to collaborate with at least one other Center in the Network to develop a new hypothesis or build from currently funded hypotheses. This interaction should lead to at least one (1) collaborative publication.
  • Centers will collaborate and participate in producing an end-of-award report about the challenges, mechanisms and successes of the Centers’ collaborations;
  • Centers will be expected to earmark percentages of their budgets to contribute to collaborative efforts and provide an annual collaborative report outlining and describing these expenditures.
  • Centers will consider themselves part of the AHA Strategically Focused Research Network.

Eligibility

Institutions

AHA SFRN awards are limited to U.S.-based non-profit institutions, including medical, osteopathic and dental schools, veterinary schools, schools of public health, pharmacy schools, nursing schools, universities and colleges, public and voluntary hospitals and others that can demonstrate the ability to conduct the proposed research.  Applications will not be accepted for work with funding to be administered through any federal institution or work to be performed by a federal employee, except for Veterans Administrations employees.
Broad collaborations for expertise are highly encouraged. A Center’s application can consist of three (3) proposals from their one (1) institution; or they can reach out and bring in other projects from other institutions. For example: the basic project could come from laboratory X in Delaware; the clinical project from hospital Y in Texas and the population/ translational project from University Z in California.

The Centers are not transferable to other institutions. An institution may submit only one AHA strategically focused research network application for any SFRN competition. Individuals at the applicant institution who are not participating in their institution’s center application (and/or its three project applications) may participate in another separate institution’s center application. Individuals participating in their institution’s center application, other than the Center Director may participate in a separate institution’s center application. The application may include individuals and/or projects at more than one institution provided there is evidence for a successful close personal and geographical interaction among research and training personnel.

It is the responsibility of the submitting institution to ensure that only one proposal is submitted for the institution or to coordinate across several institutions to create a single application. The Center Director’s institution will maintain fiscal responsibility for the entire award. The appropriate Institutional Officer should sign off on the proposal in AHA’s online grants management system, Grants@Heart.

Center applicants are encouraged to partner with at least one non-research intensive institution and their scientists, and include them in a substantive manner in the scope of the center and projects.

Investigators

Directors and Principal Investigators of projects of the Centers

  • Must possess an MD, PhD, DO, DVM or equivalent doctoral degree at time of application, and
  • Must have a faculty or staff appointment.
  • May hold another AHA award simultaneously.
  • Must demonstrate a 20% minimum effort requirement for the Director, a 5% minimum effort for the Training Director and a 10% minimum effort requirement for Principal Investigators (PI) of Center projects. These responsibilities are mutually exclusive.

*Director and Project PI salary requested must be proportional to the percent effort devoted to the Center. The AHA does not impose a salary cap other than the caps noted in the Budget below.

Center Director

  • Must demonstrate expertise in the designated research topic, with demonstrated ability to build a Center team.
  • Should demonstrate a successful history of leadership in a research project team and in career development. A clear demonstration of the Director’s commitment to integration with the other Centers is required.
  • May also serve as a Project PI on the Center application.
  • May also serve as Training Director on the Center application.
  • Experience in multi-institutional collaboration is encouraged.
  • May not serve in a director capacity on another active or proposed Network.

Training Director

  • Should demonstrate a successful history of leadership in career development. A clear demonstration of the Director’s commitment to integration with the other Centers is required. May also serve as a Project PI on the Center Application.

The responsive application will demonstrate a history of successful post-doctoral fellowship training with a plan to continue the program or a strong plan to develop a successful program.

In addition, training in clinical outcomes research and translational research concepts as well as collaborative research should be described in the application. Collaborative interdisciplinary training programs are encouraged.

A viable source for identifying and recruiting trainees must be presented in the application and while trainees are not required to be named at the time of the application submission, the first set of fellows must be identified within 90 days of award activation. The trainee fellows must possess an MD, PhD, or equivalent doctoral degree at the time of participation in the program.

Citizenship Requirements

Directors must have one of the following designations:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Permanent Resident
  • Pending Permanent Resident (must have applied for permanent residency and have filed Form I-485 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and have received authorization to legally remain in the U.S., having filed an Application for Employment Form I-765)
  • G-4 Visa – family member of employee of international organizations and NATO

Principal Investigators of proposed projects must have one of the following designations:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Permanent Resident
  • Pending Permanent Resident (must have applied for permanent residency and have filed Form I-485 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and have received authorization to legally remain in the U.S., having filed an Application for Employment Form I-765)
  • E-3 Visa – specialty occupation worker
  • H1-B Visa – temporary worker in a specialty occupation
  • O-1 Visa – temporary worker with extraordinary abilities in the sciences
  • TN Visa – NAFTA professional
  • G-4 Visa - family member of employee of international organizations and NATO

Named fellows of the Centers must have one of the following designations:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Permanent Resident
  • Pending Permanent Resident (must have applied for permanent residency and have filed Form I-485 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and have received authorization to legally remain in the U.S., having filed an Application for Employment Form I-765)
  • E-3 Visa – specialty occupation worker
  • H1-B Visa – temporary worker in a specialty occupation
  • O-1 Visa – temporary worker with extraordinary abilities in the sciences
  • TN Visa – NAFTA professional
  • J-1 Visa – exchange visitor
  • F-1 Visa – student
  • G-4 Visa - family member of employee of international organizations and NATO

*All awardees must meet the citizenship criteria throughout the duration of the award.

Fellowship Qualifications

Named fellows of the Centers at U.S. institutions must hold a MD, PhD, DO, DVM or equivalent doctoral degree and commit 75% effort to research training. Center fellows may commit a minimum of 70% effort if justification is accepted by the AHA Oversight Advisory Committee. A named fellow may not hold another comparable fellowship award, although the institution may provide supplemental funding. Fellows may not hold a faculty or staff appointment, with the exception of MDs or MD/PhD with clinical responsibilities. These fellows may hold a title of instructor or similar due to their patient care responsibilities, but must devote at least 75% effort to research training. A named fellow may have been a recipient of an AHA fellowship, but may not hold an AHA fellowship at the same time as an AHA Strategically Focused Research Network fellowship.

Team Expertise

Multidisciplinary teams are appropriate and desired and can be broadly defined. Basic disciplines such as cell/molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering/biotechnology, immunology/virology, genetics/genomics, physiology, vascular biology, genetics and bioinformatics among others are all appropriate. Clinical disciplines, including general internal medicine, nutrition and dietetics; cardiology, pediatric cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, exercise physiology, nephrology, anesthesia, nursing, emergency medicine, kinesiology, endocrinology, neurology, psychiatry and behavioral science are all appropriate. In addition, public health disciplines including the fields of health communications, health marketing, informatics, individual and collective behavior science are all of interest. Epidemiological, interventional, and behavioral science, biostatistical, and health economic approaches are appropriate to the focus of this program as well as eHealth, mHealth and related technologies.

Other Relevant Policies

The Center awards are not transferable to other institutions. The projects described can have no scientific or budgetary overlap with other funded work. Any inventions, intellectual property, and patents resulting from this funding are governed by the AHA Patent, Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer Policy. The applicant/awardee and institution are responsible for compliance with all AHA research award policies and guidelines for the duration of any awards they may receive. Go to Policies Governing All Research Awards to review AHA policies.

Application Process

Only one Center proposal, including multiple research project proposals, may be submitted from an institution. Each Center application should have only one (1) Center Director. Co-Directors will not be recognized on official documents or publications. The completed application must include the primary Center application, three individual research project applications, and the overall training plan. The components of the application are described below.

Additional application instructions for the AHA Strategically Focused Research Centers are available on the AHA’s website. Applications will only be accepted through AHA’s online grants administration system: Grants@Heart.

Letter of Intent

Prospective applicants are requested to submit a Letter of Intent for any AHA Strategically Focused Research Network offering. The letter will be submitted through the Grants@Heart system and will include the following information:

  • Name, institution, and contact information of proposed Center Director
  • Name, institution, and contact information of proposed Center Training Director
  • Names, institutions, and contact information of proposed Principal Investigators for Center Research Projects
  • Brief summary of the Center, including reference to the three projects, and overarching goals of the Center.

While a Letter of Intent is requested, it does not enter into the review of said subsequent application nor is it required in order to submit an application. The information provided in a Letter of Intent allows AHA staff to estimate the potential peer review workload and to avoid potential conflicts of interest in the peer review process. It also allows AHA to provide applicants with updated information about the application process, if necessary.

The Letter of Intent should be submitted electronically via Grants@Heart. Instructions for the Letter of Intent are available online in the Supporting Documents section of the Strategically Focused Research Network Website.

Center Application

The Director of the proposed Center must submit an umbrella application which consists of the following components:

  1. Center Science Vision and Synergy (a clear, unifying central theme to which each research project application relates); a center should be viewed as a group of interrelated research projects that are complementary and synergistic.
  2. Information regarding the Director
  3. Information regarding any current research programs and any history of successes in research in the desired topic of the RFA.
  4. A detailed description of the multidisciplinary training program for the AHA Strategically Focused Research Center two-year fellowships (basic, clinical and translational research exposure), including information regarding the selection of prospective fellows and how funded fellows’ ongoing progress will be guided via an individual development plan (IDP) and evaluated at least annually.
  5. Information on current training programs and training grants within the Center institution and affiliated institutions relative to the research being proposed (if appropriate)
  6. Information regarding other faculty/staff members at the Center institution and affiliated institutions (if appropriate) who will be submitting research projects.
  7. Information on research funding available to the Director and proposed Principal Investigators on Center research projects.
  8. Information on existing collaborative research teams within the Center institution and affiliated institutions (if appropriate) and their ability to share information and methodologies with other institutions. Documented evidence that other collaborations have produced synergistic results.
  9. Information on facilities available to support the Center and affiliated institutions’ (if appropriate) research projects.
  10. An overview of the estimated four-year budget for the Center.
  11. Information regarding the identification of a faculty/staff member at the Center institution or affiliated institutions (if appropriate) with the leadership skills to bring team-building and professional/organizational development to the collaborative process.

Project Applications

A Center research application must include three (3) synergistic research projects related to the research topics described in the RFA. Please refer to the specific RFA regarding possible research disciplines mandates. Each project should demonstrate importance and relevance of the research to the field of interest as outlined in the RFA. The projects proposed by a Center will be reviewed as a group. Successful applicants will structure their projects to include appropriate samples, cell lines, animal models, patients, cohorts or data points to draw powerful conclusions and further knowledge about the desired research topic as outlined in the RFA. Submitted projects must be feasible within the budget described. AHA research funds will not be awarded to supplement or duplicate any work which is being supported by other funding agencies. The Principal Investigator of each proposed research project must submit an application which consists of the following components:

  1. Required application forms
  2. Investigator’s qualifications
  3. Specific project aims
  4. Background and significance
  5. Preliminary data on same or related problems
  6. Contemplated methods of approach to problem
  7. Evidence of successful collaboration with other Center members
  8. Ethical aspects, including human and animal subjects, if applicable.
  9. An overview and plan of short- and long-term evaluation of metrics to support the Center’s improvement in standard patients care related to the designated topic of research.
  10. Synergy

All Network studies must include under-represented minorities, which is congruent with AHA's mission. All Centers must address any rationale for the non-use of underrepresented minorities in their subject populations.

Application Instructions for both Center Directors and Project PIs are available on the SFRN webpage.

Peer Review

Image showing a visual representation of the Peer Review Process

Review of the applications will be conducted by the AHA and will occur in two phases. For the first phase, a peer review committee of volunteer scientists will be assembled to review all the submitted applications. Appropriate scientific expertise will be sought to review the applications received. Based upon the preliminary scores assigned to an application by the assigned reviewers, a streamlined review may be conducted for any application.

A second stage of the review will then be conducted with only the highest ranked Center applications, and will include a “reverse site visit” presentation to the AHA review group by each invited Center Director and select members of the Center team. A minimum number of participants, to be decided by the AHA, will be invited to the reverse site visit. Reviewers will score the Centers as a whole, following the presentations, with the average of the reviewers’ scores providing the final ranked list of applications.

Peer Review Criteria

The following major factors will be considered in the evaluation of each Center. These factors are intended to assist applicants in determining the appropriateness of candidacy. All of these factors will enter into the deliberations of the peer review committee.

This document should not be used as sole guidance when completing your application. Please reference the appropriate Center Director and Project PI Application Instructions.
Project Application Scoring Criteria

Projects – Potential impact of the project on research in the field of the designated research topic; strengths of applicant investigators (qualifications, expertise and productivity); potential for collaboration or synergy of projects; scientific content; background; preliminary studies; detailed specific aims; approach detail; analytical plan; sample size; data management; significance; innovation; individual project scientific merit; and total project coordination (within and among projects). Projects will be rated on the following areas:

  • Approach: Are the conceptual framework, design, methods and analyses adequately developed, well integrated, well-reasoned and feasible (as determined by preliminary data) and appropriate to the aims of the project? Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider alternative tactics? For all applications that include vertebrate animals or human subjects, applicants must explain how relevant biological variables, such as sex, are factored into the research design, analysis and reporting. Furthermore, strong justification from the scientific literature, preliminary data, or other relevant considerations, must be provided for applications proposing to study only one sex.
  • Innovation: Is the project original and innovative? For example: Does the project challenge existing paradigms and address an innovative hypothesis or critical barrier to progress in the field? Does the project develop or employ novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, tools or technologies for this area?
  • Investigator: Is the investigator appropriately trained and well-suited to carry out this work? Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience level of the principal investigator and other researchers? Does the investigative team bring complementary and integrated expertise to the project (if applicable)?
  • Significance: Does this study address an important problem broadly related to cardiovascular disease or stroke? If the aims of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge or clinical practice be advanced? What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts, methods and technologies that drive this field?
  • Environment: Does the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success? Do the proposed studies benefit from unique features of the scientific environment, or subject populations, or employ useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional support?
  • Impact: How does the project relate to and support the mission of the AHA to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke and its commitment to work for health equity for all Americans?
  • Synergy: How does this project enhance the Center and the two additional science projects? How does this project allow the Center and two additional science projects to out-perform were it to be a standalone project? Only projects that demonstrate synergy will move forward to Phase 2.

(Project Applications will be scored individually according to the criteria above.)

Center Application Scoring Criteria
  1. Synergy – A clear vision of scientific direction is expected. A Strategically Focused Research Center should be viewed as a group of interrelated research projects, each of which is not only individually scientifically meritorious, but also complements the other projects and contributes to an integrating theme. Describe the rationale for the total program. Explain the strategy of achieving the objectives of the overall program and how each individual project relates to the strategy. Describe the synergies and interactions among projects and their investigators. Is there evidence of synergy among the projects and training component of the Center?
  2. Collaboration – History of collaboration, as well as the ability and commitment to collaborate with other institutions, investigators and within the applicant institution as well as within the awarded Network. Defined and detailed process for collaboration with other sites in addition to within and among the proposed projects; plans to actively participate in a collaborative network. Evidence of formal training in leadership skills with an emphasis on collaborative leadership will be favorably reviewed. What collaborations do you envision between investigators working on individual projects?
    Interaction Plan within and among this Network and other AHA Networks (if appropriate) – Plan for and commitment to sharing knowledge and methods, providing a stimulating atmosphere for research collaborations, and providing networking opportunities for trainees. Cited strategies for communication and interaction among the Centers.
  3. Training component – A detailed plan for developing and implementing a postdoctoral training program that includes clinical (M.D.) or Ph.D. training in research in the field outlined by the RFA; qualifications and characteristics of current and anticipated trainees; didactic and practicum training opportunities; plan for the selection of prospective fellows and how funded fellows’ ongoing progress will be guided via an individual development plan (IDP) and evaluated at least annually. Plan for involving fellows in annual Center meetings and Center-to-Center visits, along with identifying opportunities for fellows to work with established investigators at other network Centers; ability to track trainees; conferences and meeting participation for trainees; documentation of a ready supply of fellows; and history of successful fellowship training for researchers in the appropriate research topic.
  4. Center Team – Qualifications of the Director to provide scientific and administrative leadership for the Center; experience and commitment of the nominated Director; quality of research team; qualifications of investigators and co-investigators; experience in the field of study outlined by the RFA; training experience.
  5. Center Director – Demonstrated ability to lead others, along with experience and commitment to the success of the Center, the projects contained within, and the Network. Documented evidence of willingness to collaborate with others outside their institution to share ideas, science, etc. to progress the field of research as outlined in the RFA.
  6. Investigator team – Qualifications of each PI to provide scientific and administrative leadership for their respective projects; demonstrated commitment of each PI, and experience with studies in the field outlined by the RFA; quality of interdisciplinary research team; qualifications of co- investigators; training experience.
  7. Environment – Institutional commitment, resources and facilities to sustain the Center; institutional resources available to complete the project; analytical resources available to the project; letter from Center Director’s Department Head assuring the department and institution’s support of the Center along with confirmation that the Center Director will devote at least 20% effort towards the Center. Other Center personnel may be appointed to assist the Director in the administration of the Center. However, the Director will be required to devote 20% effort to the Center.

Reverse Site Visit

A second stage of the review will be conducted with only the highest-ranked candidates. The Center Director and key personnel will have approximately 3-4 weeks to prepare for the reverse site visit; presentation should focus on the Center review criteria only. The entire reverse site visit will last approximately 45 minutes. Note: Key personnel will be expected to travel to attend the reverse site visit at their own expense.

Human Subjects & Ethical Considerations

All applications must adhere to AHA research program policies and standards including those regarding the ethical treatment of animals and human subjects, as well as the policy addressing inclusiveness of study populations relative to gender, race, age and socioeconomic status. Institutional review board approval will be handled on a “just in time” basis and will be required before the date of the first quarterly payment made to the institution. Funding is contingent upon institutional review board approval initially and for the duration of the award. Any ethical concerns identified via the review process shall be forwarded to the AHA Research Committee for consideration.

Oversight Advisory Committee

Once the Centers are selected, an Oversight Advisory Committee will be assembled to provide external oversight for the Centers and serve in an advisory capacity to the Centers. Anyone who applies to the Program and is funded will not be considered for membership on the Advisory Committee. Center Directors and project PI’s will report to and meet with the Advisory Committee regularly. The Oversight Advisory Committee also will offer advice to the AHA Research Committee on the progress of the Centers and any issues that arise in their administration.

Responsibilities of the Oversight Advisory Committee include:

  • Monitoring the scientific progress of the Centers and Center Projects
  • Overseeing and annually evaluating the program, including an evaluation of the progress of the trainees, making recommendations regarding continuation to the AHA Research Committee
  • Monitoring and encouraging interaction efforts within and among Centers. The Advisory Committee will encourage Centers to change traditional culture by rewarding interaction and will request an annual report on the successes and challenges resulting from efforts to interact
  • Making recommendations to the AHA Research Committee regarding management of the program

Program Evaluation

Each Center will be required to provide an annual interim report, as well as a final written scientific report of progress. Progress made and plans for the coming year shall be addressed in these annual reports. Preliminary measures of the success of the initiative have been identified, and each Center will be required to provide a milestones-to-success timeline at the time of funding and each subsequent year in conjunction with the annual progress report. Centers will be asked to report on the following measures:

  • Productivity of Centers – track publications and citations; document outcomes of research projects; document other funding resulting from the current initiative
  • Transfer of intellectual property to the marketplace
  • Impact of the fellowship training experience on career development: track trained fellows over a five-year period for such measures as percent of time in research, publications, other funding, and promotions
  • Report on the interaction among the Centers and lessons learned, including measures of level of collaboration, such as heterogeneity of co-authors of papers (number of academic departments represented among co-authors)
  • Report on each project and center’s progress as defined by the milestones to goal timeline.

Budget

The Program will have a total budget of $12-20 million. The funding will be allocated as follows, assuming four (4) Centers are funded:

Program Budget - Center Totals
 Center Totals
Projects
Three Projects at each Center for four years Maximum of $2.844M to be divided among the 3 Projects funded at the Center over the 4 years. To accommodate various situations, the money does not need to be spent equally between projects or years.
$2.844M
Fellows
Three Fellows at each Center for two years each Minimum fellows’ salary and fringe of $50,000/year. Additional funds to supplement salary and fringe can come from Center Director salary, Center travel budget, Project PI budget, or additional funding sources (only if the fellow’s research effort is at least 75%).
$300K
Center Director
One Director at each Center for four years
A maximum of $50,000 per year for each Director.
Center Director must commit at least 20% effort. If a separate Center Training Director is desired, this $50,000 per year may be split to accommodate additional percent effort of this individual.
$200K
Center Travel Costs
Covers travel for Center personnel to Center network meetings and other integration activities. $7,000 per year must be allocated to Center Travel.
$28K
Direct Costs (Total)
Research Dollars
$3.372M
Indirect Costs
AHA Policy allows for a maximum of 10% for indirect costs
 
$337.2K
Total$3.7092M
  • It is expected that each Center will earmark a percentage of their award (% of direct costs) to use toward collaborative efforts according to the schedule below:
    • Year 1: 5% ($42,150)
    • Year 2: 7% ($59,010)
    • Year 3: 7% ($59,010)
    • Year 4: 10% ($84,300)
  • Collaborative efforts must be detailed in each annual scientific progress report. Money can be set aside as a specific budget line item, or line items may be earmarked or tagged as collaborative expenses (for example, travel funds can be considered collaborative efforts).
  • Examples of collaboration include but are not limited to:
    • sending a fellow or PI to another center in the network to learn a technique or skill
    • collaborating with an investigator from another center in the network on a new or tangential project or publication
    • hosting fellows from the network for a relevant symposium, course or training bootcamp

The total amount requested per Center, including 10% indirect costs, may not exceed approximately $3.7 million for the 4-year award.
Center Directors, Training Directors, all Project PIs and fellows will be required to attend the Annual Network meeting each year. Please be sure that your budget accommodates enough funding to cover travel to these Annual Meetings.

The Center Director will be responsible for overseeing the total budget for his/her Center within the Network. If awarded, the Director and the institution assume an obligation to expend grant funds for the research purposes set forth in the application and in accordance with all regulations and policies governing the grant programs of the AHA, Inc.

The AHA is currently paying all research payments quarterly on or around the 17th of the month following the end of the calendar quarter. Payments are made to institutions on behalf of the Director. If activated on April 1, the first payment to the Center would be sent on or around July 17 (and in October, January, April and July thereafter).

Contact Information

General Questions
(214) 360-6120
sfrn@heart.org

Technical Assistance
(214) 360-6107
login@heart.org

Institutional Additions
institutions@heart.org
 

Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms
Term Definition
Basic Science The study of fundamental life processes. This type of research is often purely theoretical with the intent of increasing our understanding of certain phenomena or behaviors but is not directly aimed at solving a specific prevention or treatment issue in the short term.
Center A Center is comprised of a Center Director, Center Training Director and multiple Project PIs. These individuals may be located at the same or separate institutions as long as there is evidence of past and/or current collaboration. Centers will work together to move research forward in the area of study.
Center Director The Director serves as the leader of his/her Center. This individual is renowned as an expert in the science topic being proposed and provides leadership, training and collaboration experience.
Center Fellow A Center Fellow has a post-baccalaureate doctoral degree (MD, PhD, DO, DVM, PharmD). These individuals will be highly involved in the work being proposed by the Center and will be encouraged to collaborate with fellows across the network. The Center Fellows will work closely with the Center Training Director and Center Director on their individualized multidisciplinary training plan.
Clinical Science Addresses important questions of normal function and disease using human subjects (or on material of human origin such as tissues, specimens, and cognitive phenomena) wherein an investigator or colleague directly interacts with human subjects. It includes research on mechanisms of human disease, therapeutic interventions, clinical trials, and development of new technologies, but does not include in vitro studies using human tissues not linked to a living individual.
Collaboration Collaboration is defined as a process where two or more individuals or organizations work together to complete a task and achieve shared goals - a deep, collective, determination to reach an identified objective — by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.
Letter of Intent The Letter of Intent is used by the AHA to gather information on prospective applicants – quantity of expected applications, projects being proposed, etc.
Multidisciplinary Research Multidisciplinary Research brings different disciplines together to explore a topic from different perspectives. Collaboration across the disciplines is key to create new approaches, ideas, knowledge base, etc.
Oversight Advisory Committee A group of scientific volunteers in the named strategic area tasked with supervising the progress and direction of the Centers in the Network to ensure that the goals of each project, each training program, cross-center collaboration, etc. are met and accomplished during the life of the Network.
Population Science The science and art of studying the distribution and determinants of health status as influenced by social, economic and physical environments, human biology (including genetics and genomics), health policy and services and of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health at the population level. Population health research may include epidemiologic and behavioral studies, outcomes research, and health services research.
Project PI A Project PI is an independent investigator responsible for carrying out the scientific research project proposed in their application. They must provide evidence of successful research accomplishments and their ability and commitment to collaborate and share knowledge with others.
Reverse Site Visit A reverse site visit occurs during the second phase of peer review for the Strategically Focused Research Network applications. The visit consists of an in-person presentation by the proposed Center Director and Project PIs, to the AHA Peer Review Committee. The reverse site visit is held at a neutral location and will consist of a brief oral presentation followed by a question and answer period.
Strategically Focused Research Network – aka Network A Network is composed for multiple Centers, each at different institutions, coming together to study a common topic determined by the AHA to encourage collaboration and move the science community forward.
Synergy Synergy is the ability of a group to produce something greater than the sum of its parts; the ability of the group to outperform even its best individual member.
Training Director The Training Director is responsible for the direction and execution of the training program of the center postdoctoral fellows. This program should include multidisciplinary approach to training and developing the fellows in the area of research being proposed by the Center.
Translational Research A multidisciplinary type of research that involves turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public.