November 24,2015

NIH: Exploratory/Developmental Bioengineering Research Grants (EBRG) [R21]

  • Release Date:11-20-2015
  • Open Date:11-20-2015
  • Due Date:06-05-2016
  • Close Date:06-05-2016


The goal for exploratory/developmental bioengineering research grants (EBRG) is to foster the exploration and development of innovative technologies, models, techniques, designs, and methods that have the potential to substantially advance biomedical research by infusing principles and concepts from the quantitative sciences to transform our understanding of biological, clinical or translational science.

The purpose of this FOA is to  encourage EBRG applications which establish the feasibility of technologies, techniques or methods that: 1) explore a unique multidisciplinary approach to a biomedical challenge; 2) are high-risk but have a considerable pay-off; and 3) develop data which can lead to significant future research. An EBRG application may propose hypothesis-driven, discovery-driven, developmental, or design-directed research and is appropriate for evaluating unproven approaches for which there is minimal or no preliminary data.


The evolution and vitality of the biomedical sciences require a constant infusion of new ideas, techniques, and points of view. These may differ substantially from current thinking or practice and may not yet be supported by substantial preliminary data. This FOA seeks to foster the introduction of innovative scientific ideas, model systems, tools, agents, targets, and technologies from the physical and computational sciences that have the potential to substantially advance biomedical research.

Many major biomedical research problems are best addressed using a multi-disciplinary approach which bridges the life and physical sciences. Principles and techniques in allied quantitative sciences such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer sciences, and engineering are increasingly being applied to good effect in biomedical research. Bioengineering integrates principles from a diversity of technical and biomedical fields, and the resulting multi-disciplinary research is providing new basic understandings, novel products, and innovative technologies that improve basic knowledge, human health, and quality of life. This FOA seeks to stimulate quantitative and physical scientists to work with biomedical researchers to catalyze the development of these innovative bioengineering approaches which may open entirely new areas of biomedical investigation.

While applications should involve considerable risk, they should also clearly explain the significance of the proposed work and why the potential impact outweighs these risks. Significant projects may include, but are not limited to, assessing the feasibility of a novel tool for clinical intervention, exploring new approaches to characterizing and modeling complex biological systems, improving and integrating existing technologies to provide a breakthrough in unsolved biomedical problems, or establishing preliminary evidence for a transformative bioengineering approach which challenges accepted paradigms. Innovation includes the development of new methods, ideas, or tools, as well as the integration of existing components in an unproven format which will meet the unmet needs of the biomedical research. High impact projects will have the potential to transform our understanding or practice by applying an innovative approach to an appropriate biomedical challenge and developing data to establish feasibility towards significant future research.

The use of the R21 mechanism is intended to support short-term exploratory research projects. Long-term projects, or projects designed to increase knowledge in a well-established area, will not be considered for R21 awards. Projects should clearly serve the mission of one or more of the NIH institutes or centers participating in this FOA.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is interested in the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, surgical technologies, computational and systems biology, biomaterials and nanotechnology, as applied to the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and non-malignant hematologic mission areas of the Institute.   Topic areas include, but are not limited to, the development of:  i)  noninvasive and nondestructive 3D imaging methods for in vivo monitoring, ii) techniques for metabolic imaging of disease progression, iii) research tools such as molecular imaging probes, microfluidics, and nanotechnologies, and iv) novel diagnostic and medical devices.    Of special interest are new bioengineering approaches to improve cardiovascular repair and regeneration, artificial lungs as a bridge to transplant or for treatment of lung failure, and new additive solutions, storage bags and/or new processes to enhance blood cell function and survival after storage and transfusion.  Additionally, the interests of NHLBI include research tools, methods and technologies that facilitate therapeutic advances and behavioral changes to address problems in energy balance, weight control, and obesity (see:  http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-HL-07-007.html)

In addition to its mission-relevant R21 projects, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) would also like to use the R21 mechanism to stimulate and promote research in building complex 3-dimensional in vitro human musculoskeletal and skin tissue models to study developmental biology, physiology, and disease pathogenesis as well as for drug discovery and toxicity studies.  NIAMS is not interested in applications are developing 3D tissues for transplantation, or engineering non-human tissue models, or developing simple 3-D models that do not go significantly beyond those currently in use, such as human skin equivalents composed of only normal keratinocytes and fibroblasts.

The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) (http://orwh.od.nih.gov/) serves as a focal point for women's health research at the NIH.  The NIH Strategic Plan for Women’s Health and Sex Differences Research outlines six goals that guide research that will improve the health of women and men by reflecting on the differences and similarities between men and women in all areas of biomedical research.  For this FOA, the ORWH would be interested in biomedical research that specifically addresses the purpose of the FOA within the context of sex differences research and diseases that disproportionately affect women and girls. 

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is focused on understanding the effects of environmental exposures on human health with the ultimate goal of using that understanding to improve public health.  Our specific interests within the Exploratory/Developmental Bioengineering Research Grants program include but are not limited to:

1) The development of technologies and integrated devices for improved personal exposure assessment.  A particular emphasis is on the development of technologies that will enable untargeted, agnostic, associations between exposures and disease in support of the exposome concept.

2) The development of technologies to enable research into the mechanisms of response to environmental exposures.  This includes the development of ‘omics technologies and systems modeling techniques to assess the differential response of biological networks to environmental perturbations.

3) The development of moderate to high throughput screens for the assessment of potential toxicants.  A particular emphasis is on the development of model systems that more closely reflect the response of humans including engineered 3D tissue systems originating from human tissues and induced pluripotent cells and the development of humanized animal models such as mouse models with enhanced genetic diversity similar to human populations.

Within the goals of this FOA, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is particularly interested in translational research applications that take advantage of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary biological and bioengineering approaches to advance the regeneration of biocompatible composite tissues that can maintain long-term tissue architecture, anatomical structure, viability and functional inter-tissue interfaces as well as can integrate with native tissues of the host. The composite tissues of interest include, but are not limited to vascularized bone-skeletal muscle, periodontal complex, and osteochondral complex. NIDCR will not accept clinical trial applications through this FOA.