John Merck Fund Announces 2012 Developmental Disabilities Translational Research Program Guidelines and Application Process

February 16, 2012

The John Merck Fund has had a longstanding interest in people with intellectual and developmental disorders since its inception in 1970.  Starting in 2012, JMF will launch the Developmental Disabilities Translational Research Program, which will support researchers in developing treatments and improving outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome (and FX associated disorders).  The awards will be made to the most highly innovative translational research projects that have the greatest potential of investigating rational and effective treatments and interventions for the particular condition being addressed.  The program will emphasize interdisciplinary collaborative grant applications focused primarily on FXS and DS, but the program will support studies focused on other developmental disabilities under special circumstances.  The Fund is particularly interested in translational research that is designed to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families.  Investigators from a range of disciplines are encouraged to apply.

Over the next ten years, the Translational Research Program will make approximately ten awards of $1 million each ($250,000 per year for four years).  Scientists at any career stage who have a scholarly commitment to developmental disabilities are eligible to apply.  Special consideration will be given to interdisciplinary proposals from scientists who have demonstrable evidence of their ability to collaborate in carrying out innovative and significant developmental disabilities research.


Applicants must have the following:

  • Academic rank in a university or medical school, or equivalent standing in a research institute or medical center. 
  • A record of research in areas relating to developmental disabilities.
  • Evidence of a scholarly commitment to a career in developmental disabilities research.

Awards and Restrictions

In 2012 awards will be made for $250,000 per year for a four-year period, subject to an annual review of research progress.  The sponsoring institution must be located in the United States and is responsible for fiscal management.  No portion of the award may be used for indirect costs.  The award is for the exclusive use of the Principal Investigator (PI) and may not be used for institutional or departmental support.  Payments will be made to the PI's institution with the understanding that the total amount of the award will be used only by the PI and will be transferred should the PI change institutions.  At the PI's discretion, up to 25 percent of the award may be used for his or her salary support (which is limited to the NIH salary cap), including, when necessary, fringe benefits.  The balance may be expended for research assistants, equipment, or other purposes that promote the PI's project.

Preliminary Proposal Submission

The Translational Research Program competition accepts applications through a two-part, open process.  Each applicant must submit the title of the project, a 200-word abstract, a two-page narrative description of the research activities and plans for the future, and the NIH biosketches of the PI and all members of the team.  The two-page narrative should include a project description and a brief statement showing evidence of the PI's career commitment to developmental disabilities.  The narrative should also address how the project will advance the applicant's overall research program and plans and how the applicant believes the work to be supported will have the potential to improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities.  State whether this is a new project or is part of an ongoing research project.  The narrative section is not to exceed two pages, Arial font, 11-point type, with 1/2-inch margins, and should be sent along with the NIH biosketches via email as a Word or PDF document by 12 noon Eastern Time on May 15, 2012, to  The subject heading of the email should read: "Translational Research Program Preliminary Proposal."

Full Proposal Submission

The Scientific Advisory Board (listed below) will review all the preliminary proposals and select a limited number of full proposals to be submitted by September 17, 2012.  Detailed application guidelines for the full proposal will be provided to successful applicants by July 31.  The full proposal  (due September 17, 2012) will require an eight-page narrative, as well as detailed descriptions of the candidate's commitment to developmental disabilities, a Resources and Environment statement, a letter of institutional support, letters of support from collaborating investigators, project timeline, budget, and budget narrative.

Scientific Advisory Board

The SAB is chaired by

  • Marsha Mailick Seltzer, PhD, of the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Other members of this distinguished panel of experts include

  • Elisabeth Dykens, PhD (Vanderbilt University),
  • Michael Guralnick, PhD (University of Washington),
  • Charles Nelson, PhD (Children's Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School),
  • Joseph Piven, MD (University of North Carolina), and
  • Brad Schlaggar, MD, PhD (Washington University in St. Louis). 
  • George Jesien, PhD, Director of the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD), is an ex-officio member.

Review and Notification Procedures

  • All preliminary proposals must arrive no later than 12 noon ET on May 15.  Incomplete or late proposals will not be considered.
  • By July 31 the SAB will select a limited number of applicants to submit full proposals.  Candidates being invited to submit full proposals will be notified via email.
  • Full proposals will be due by October 1 .  Detailed application guidelines will be provided to those invited to submit full proposals.
  • The SAB, in consultation with other experts, will recommend the successful investigator(s) to the Fund's Board of Trustees for approval by mid-December.  Applicants will be notified of the results of the decision by the end of December.

For more information, contact Nancy Stockford, Developmental Disabilities Translational Research Program, The John Merck Fund, 2 Oliver Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA 02109; (617) 556-4120; or